Representation for young people with disabilities; inclusion vs. tokenism

Misconceptions about the uniformity of disabilities, and the inability to accommodate, creates tokenistic representation in local and national decision making. UN spaces must make sure they don’t replicate these failures, says Michelle Mutogo as she attends the African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development.

For people with disabilities, inclusion is a matter of reasonable accommodation being offered so that they can actively participate in society, just like everyone else. Most young people are willing to participate but they have been failed by a flawed education system that silos progress and tries to deal with the broad spectrum of disabilities as if there is only one disability. Too often genuine participation at local and national level is impeded by this misconception. And I was eager to find out whether this remained the case at an international, regional conference such as the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development

The Restless Development Youth Advocates delegation on a day trip to Victoria falls at the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development.

There are different forms of disability that require different accommodations. There are people with physical disabilities, sensory disabilities, learning difficulties and mental disabilities. All of which require different accommodations. Too often this variation is not appreciated by decision makers and tokenistic representation is used as a substitute for genuine inclusivity. 

Roughly 15% of the population in Zimbabwe are people with disabilities. Most of the time, poverty comes hand in hand with disability hence these are people that really need proper representation and empowerment. In the Zimbabwean senate there is a quota in place for senators representing people with disabilities. However out of 80 senators there are only 2 senators with disabilities. This means that 2.5% of the people in the Senate represent a community of 15% of the nation.

Further to this, the 2 Senators both have physical disabilities and are well over the age of 40. How will they advocate for the rights of a young deaf person? Representation is not equal for people with different disabilities and they are not in a position to properly advocate for people who need different accommodations.  

A lack of proportional and appropriate representation is a major problem being faced by young people with disabilities in Zimbabwe – at local and national level. However is there an opportunity for them to be represented at an international (regional) Level? 

Michelle, author, poses for a photo in front of a statue of David Livingstone near Victoria falls.

From my observation at the African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development thus far, I have to applaud the United Nations for the effort they have put in to giving young people with disabilities a chance to participate and also ensuring that they are reasonably accommodated. I have seen different tailored aides catering for different people. As the forum progresses, I am curious to see how people with disabilities will be incorporated in the events, forums and procedures.


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Representation for young people with disabilities; inclusion vs. tokenism

by Michelle Mutogo Reading time: 2 min