Amplifying the Voices of Disabled Young People
Yewande Akintelu-Omoniyi describes her involvement in ALLFIE’s projects to empower Young people.
I first became involved with ALLFIE in 2010, when I was 19 and part of the VIPER project. VIPER is short for Voice, Inclusion, Participation, Empowerment and Research. It was a 3-year project that taught Young Disabled people research methods, in order to find out whether they were getting the chance to participate in decision-making for the services that they receive. It was here that I was introduced to the Social Model of Disability and the idea of Disability Rights. This was an eye-opening experience for me. It changed the way I view disability and the way I view myself as a Disabled person.
Since 2014, I’ve worked as a volunteer for ALLFIE.
During this time, I’ve helped to design and deliver ALLFIE’s Knowledge is Power Toolkit, which was created so that Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) can help to empower Young people about Disability Rights, identity and decision-making. More recently, I’ve been involved in three further projects that ALLFIE has run for Disabled Young people.
In July 2019, ALLFIE began the Being Seen Being Heard project, which focuses on how Disabled Young people and older Disability Activists can learn from each other and how to bridge the generational gap. During this project, the Young people involved were the RIP:STARS group (which stands for Research Into Plans: Skilled Team with Ambition, Rights and Strength). I assisted in facilitating these sessions and shared my experiences of disability discrimination and trying to make my way in the Disability Movement. We looked at the differences and similarities between younger and older Disabled people. I really enjoyed being part of the sessions and hearing the different perspectives. However, it was sad to hear that Young Disabled people are still facing many of the same barriers I faced whilst growing up.
This August, ALLFIE ran the Making Things Happen project, helping Disabled Young people understand about Disability Identity, decision-making and campaigning. This involved Disabled Young people coming together for five workshops focusing on different topics. The facilitators were our Director, Michelle Daley, our Inclusion Champions Worker, Justine Jones, and our Campaigns and Policy Coordinator, Simone Aspis. Once again, I helped to facilitate and shared my experiences, alongside another of our young volunteers named Katouche Goll. We covered topics such as the social model, and language around disability and campaigning. I really enjoyed these sessions because they emphasised how important it is for Disabled Young people to understand Disability Rights from a young age.
The Being Seen Being Heard and Making Things Happen sessions, which were originally going to be face-to-face, took place online, due to Covid-19 restrictions. We also had a graphic artist who created illustrations around ideas discussed in the sessions, which made everything more accessible.
This summer, I’ve also joined in ALLFIE’s new group, Disabled Black Lives Matter (DBLM), set up shortly after the killing of George Floyd in the US. We are a group of Black Disabled people from different parts of the country, who meet weekly on Zoom. This group includes several young members. We discuss the barriers we face as Black Disabled people. The experience of Black Disabled people is often not understood in Black rights movements or in the Disability Rights movement.
We also celebrate our identity as Black Disabled people. The meetings are supported by ALLFIE Director, Michelle, and Chaired by Katouche Goll, who are Black Disabled Women.
Recently, we have been meeting with other organisations, to see how we can take the work of DBLM forward. I benefit a lot from the meetings, because there are many times in Disability Rights projects when I’m the only Black Disabled person in the room. So now that I am a part of DBLM, it is nice to talk to people that have been through similar experiences to me. Hopefully we can build on the awareness we have raised so far, continue to do good work, and further develop the voices of Black Disabled people.
Being part of these projects and being introduced to the Disability Rights movement has made me realise that Disabled people can be leaders, and can have choice and control in their lives. I’ve also learned that Disabled people have a rich history and have made valuable contributions to society. I am so grateful for the guidance and friendship that I have received from Disability Activists over the years. It is so important for ALLFIE to have the voice of Young people in its work. They are the next generation of Disability Leaders, and they are needed to carry on the fight for equality and inclusion.
However, I believe that there are some challenges currently which mean that not many Young Disabled people are involved in the movement. Many older Disabled people I meet tell me that Young Disabled people are “not interested” in campaigning and activism. I don’t think that is the case at all. Many Young people just haven’t had the opportunity to be introduced to the Social Model and Disability Rights or be involved in the work that DPOs do. Also, the way that Young people campaign is changing. Disabled Young people might not be involved in traditional ways of campaigning, like direct action, but they are raising awareness about the barriers they face on platforms such as social media and blogs. Perhaps, the Disability Movement and DPOs could be doing more to embrace social media and technology.
Recently, we’ve seen Young people coming together and being passionate about issues like the climate crisis and Black Lives Matter. It’s shown what’s possible when Young people are empowered and are allowed to use their voices. So, let’s keep believing in and amplifying the voices of Disabled Young people, so that we can continue to progress in the fight for inclusion.