Despite 15% of our youth having one or more disabilities, hardly any young people know how to interact and communicate with their peers who have disabilities. There is a general lack of awareness of the basic principles of barrier free communication.
Young people with disabilities want people to know more about their feelings. They want to communicate with their peers. Disability Matters (UK) state that 25% of UK residents do not feel confident communicating with a child with disabilities. There is a need for people to gain a better understanding of people with disabilities of all ages.
Young people with disabilities encounter many attitudes that can create barriers to communication and mutual respect:
- Inferiority: Disability may impact upon the daily life of a person. As a result, their peers may perceive them as “second-class citizens.” However, most people with disabilities develop compensatory skills and strategies that address any barriers to full participation in society.
- Pity: People feel sorry for the person with a disability, which tends to lead to patronising attitudes. People with disabilities generally don’t want pity and charity, just equal opportunities and to be part of their community.
- Hero worship: Most people with disabilities do not want accolades for performing day-to-day tasks.
- Ignorance: People with disabilities are often dismissed as incapable of accomplishing a task, without being given the opportunity to display their skills.
- The Spread Effect: People assume that an individual’s disability negatively affects other senses, abilities or personality traits, or that the total person is impaired.
- Stereotypes: The other side of the spread effect is the positive and negative generalisations people form about disabilities. As well as diminishing the individual and his or her abilities, such prejudice can set too high, or too low, a standard for individuals.
- Backlash: Many people believe individuals with disabilities are given unfair advantages. However, what they see as “special privileges” are in fact just equal opportunities.
- Denial: Many disabilities are “hidden,” such as learning disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, epilepsy, arthritis and heart conditions. People tend to believe these are not bona fide disabilities needing “accommodation”.
- Fear: Many people are afraid that they do or say the wrong thing around someone with a disability. They therefore reduce the risk of any personal embarrassment or discomfort by avoiding any individual with a disability.
The first step to encouraging inclusive communication is to give young people an awareness of such basic aspects of how to interact with a peer with disabilities. Step two, is to show them how to use a variety of accessible interaction/communication methods to break down the barriers between them.
These two steps are at the core of the Access-Interact project. Our aim is to have an impact on young people, thereby investing in the future, and providing the proper basis for a spill over effect into wider society, and into the working environment. We did this by implementing a peer support model to help youth communities increase their understanding of disabilities and reduced the fear of approaching, or being approached by, an individual with disabilities.
Objectives of the project:
- to foster the inclusion and employability of young people with fewer opportunities including those not in Education, employment or training (NEET)
- to promote intercultural dialogue and strengthen a knowledge and acceptance of diversity in society
- to support youth workers in developing and sharing effective methods in reaching out to marginalised young people, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, and in preventing racism and intolerance among young people;
- to promote diversity, intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, common values of freedom, tolerance and respect of human rights;
- to strengthen young people’s sense of initiative, especially in the field of social interaction.
- Youth workers and leaders
- Student leaders
- Student bodies
- Youth organisation leaders
- Disability youth organisations’ representatives
- Youth volunteers, youth organisation members
- Student bodies/Youth council members
- People with disabilities, youth organisation members
- Young people with disabilities
- Students (with disabilities)
- Youth centred NGOs
It is important that young people develop a set of communication skills that breaks down barriers –Disability knows no borders. These skills should apply to all areas of society: social and work environments as well as family life. People with disabilities should play a full part in society and experience inclusive citizenship.