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29 October 2014

Wednesday 29 October

At London Youth I am one of 13 Inclusion Champions who are represented across the organisation to help our work become more inclusive for young people with disabilities. After Lord Freud’s comments on disability and the minimum wage, I started thinking about my weekend in August with young people and youth workers from our member clubs on our first ever ‘Forward Thinking’ residential at Woodrow High House. This looked at how London Youth can best support all young people; support youth workers to network with each other; and encourage young people to challenge themselves as much as possible. After the residential my team and I came back inspired and motivated by the talented individuals we all met that weekend.…

Young people with disabilities face more barriers than non-disabled young people as they seek to develop confidence, skills and become successful adults. They are more likely to be bullied, and nationally four in ten of children with disabilities live in poverty as their parents have to spend money on care equipment. Furthermore, as we saw recently, not only do people with disabilities have more difficulty finding work but their work and contributions are constantly undervalued.

To bid for funding within the charity sector, it is often necessary to show how young people are not getting the support they need and why things do need to change. Within this rhetoric, the assets of these young people are often forgotten. Therefore within the sector we often describe young people with disabilities as those that we need to help or assist. But we should emphasise the importance of motivating, challenging and empowering.

This is something we tried to do throughout the Forward Thinking residential and this is how it should always be. The group we worked with were young people with a range of disabilities from our member clubs, including WAC Arts, AbPhab, Earls Court Youth Centre, and Chantry School. Throughout the weekend we saw the group challenge themselves in all activities and support each other with a huge amount of patience.

Their reflections during our consultation sessions taught us more about the journeys all young people take. In one session of 'Forward Thinking'  we asked young people: "What would you do if you were Mayor of London for the day?" The whole group were completely engaged and it was clear that very few of them have ever been asked what is important to them. What was massively evident is that this group were extremely aware of their own needs, abilities, any support they would like, and were definitely not afraid to ask for it.

Even more generally when we talk about disabilities, is this not just an alternative range of abilities? Some of the young people I worked with had a special way with people, or see things in ways others can’t, or are able to analyse situations in ways I don’t understand.

Take Alex, for example, who while sometimes will need some support with social skills, asks the most insightful questions and is interested in everything. Then there's Lily who may often need extra explanations but knows herself and what motivates her better than any other person I know. And Jordan, who seemed really shy, formed strong friendships with young people from a different youth club and is hoping to visit them again in the future. I have seen more patience in Talent Match London Youth Board member, Catherine Capaldi, when dealing with insufficient transport accessibility than anyone else I know.

Within the sector we often talk about excluded groups such as 'NEETs', ‘carers’,  ‘care leavers’, and young people with disabilities. We think of why these groups of young people are excluded from services, why the current system does not necessarily work for them and what we need to do to make it better. Too often these decisions are made by the professionals and policymakers without young people actually feeding into it, and if they do it's often not at the initial design phase.

We need to start viewing all young people – and more generally the user of any service – as capable of coming up with their own solutions, and focus on what the right questions to ask them are, so that we can get a better understanding of what they really think and want.

Storm Lawrence is the Youth Leadership Officer on Talent Match London and is one of our Inclusion Champions.

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