Nothing About Us Without Us

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Feb 27, 2020
by Faye Hobson
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Nothing About Us Without Us

Reflections on the Zero Project Conference Youth Forum Members of the Youth Forum at the Zero Project Conference in Vienna, Austria
 
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that everyone has the right to education, but for some people accessing this education is far harder than it should be. For young people with disabilities, experiences of marginalization are all too commonplace in educational settings and many young people face total exclusion from the education sector. 

The Zero Project Conference brings together individuals and organizations working together with the common goal of creating a world without barriers for people with disabilities. This year the topic was inclusive education. Salzburg Global was invited to share our work on social and emotional learning, and how this can be an effective tool for building more empathetic and inclusive education systems. 

On several occasions during the conference, “nothing about us without us” was the rousing call from many of the speakers. The Zero Project lived their values and invited 12 Youth Advocates from around the world to the conference to discuss their experiences of inclusive education. 

These young people were not included in a tokenistic way, as is so often the case when we try to “include” members of “marginalized” groups. They were empowered to tell their own stories, to raise their voices, and to call for the change that they want to see on the issues that directly affect them. 

Fierce, funny, powerful, and not afraid of calling for radical change in a way that many adults would not feel they could. One of the Youth Advocates said that, if given the opportunity, he would punch his education system in the face and rebuild it more inclusively and democratically. You can’t argue with that!

Many adults will have memories of their time at school being entirely shaped by rules, schedules, and teachers. The inclusive schools presented at the Youth Forum, all share a common belief that the best needs of learners are served by enabling students, teachers and parents to work together. It was clear to see and hear the positive results of this approach as 12 confident and charismatic young people took to the stage at the conference. 

Reflecting on the global scale of the challenges faced by disabled people, one Youth Advocate reminded us that prejudices don’t need a passport to cross borders and called for us all to join in the global fight for complex diversity that gives everyone the freedom to be who they are. 

The Youth Advocates reminded the audience that discrimination against people with disabilities happens so often we almost think that it is normal. Most of us either are or will eventually become disabled. So, it would seem a sensible, inclusive, future-proofing step to build a more inclusive world sooner rather than later.

Achieving inclusion for people with disabilities requires everyone in society to play a part in creating change. By celebrating difference and creating societies where everyone is valued and free to be themselves, we can build a happier and healthier world.

Salzburg Global staff, Faye Hobson, Program Manager, and Dominic Regester, Program Director, were Co-Chairs of the Youth Forum at the Zero Project Conference. The Zero Project, an initiative of the Essl Foundation, focuses on the rights of persons with disabilities globally. It provides a platform where the most innovative and effective solutions to problems that persons with disabilities face, are shared. Its sole objective is to assist in creating a world without barriers.