Youth with disabilities engagement in Commonwealth decision-making processes


“The Commonwealth Secretariat will keep working side by side with the Commonwealth Youth Council and support initiatives like the #IamABLE campaign to ensure the voices of young people with disabilities influence both the Commonwealth and national development agendas,” said Deputy Secretary-General (Political) of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Dr Josephine Ojiambo, who encouraged the disabled and non-disabled youth participants of a Mental Health and #IamABLE workshop that took place at the Marlborough House on the 20th March as part of the Commonwealth Youth Council’s “I am ABLE” campaign.

The “I am ABLE” campaign (, was launched on the 3rd December 2016 in Mombasa, Kenya and has the overarching objective of promoting the interests of youth with disabilities across the Commonwealth. There are four main objectives of the campaign, they are, raising awareness of the experience of persons with disabilities, recognising and celebrating the persons with disabilities who are leaders in their community and their workplace, collecting data about persons with disability that can inform policies and building capacity of young persons with disabilities.

So far, the campaign supported by a working group, has successfully launched a poetry competition (sponsored by Reed Smith), a photo campaign, monthly twitter chats, and physical events in Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom all geared towards consulting and engaging young people with disabilities in shaping the decision-making processes of the future they want. The latest initiative in collaboration with EduCoders in Pakistan will provide a platform for a virtual classroom where sessions specifically tailored for persons with disabilities will be made available.

Monday’s event was timely with the lead up to the Commonwealth Youth Ministers’ Meeting (CYMM) to take place on the 31st July to the 4th August 2017. The morning session was focused on capacity-building of disabled and non-disabled peers on mental health and well-being which was facilitated by Jonathan Andrews, an autism advocate, a member of the working group and Commonwealth Youth Award finalist. Andrews reflected, “It’s vital that international bodies like the Commonwealth, and member States across the globe, recognise not only the difficulties people with disabilities face but also the talents that they can contribute to society. I was delighted to speak at the I am ABLE event on the importance of good mental health, for all people but particularly those with disabilities who are too often excluded from participation. It was brilliant to see strong capacity building increased confidence among attendees.” This was followed by a presentation by Alex Cisnero, pupil barrister at No5 Chambers, on “Mental Health legislation in Commonwealth” which identified the strengths and flaws of legislation in the Commonwealth and advocated for legislation to also take into consideration local contexts but for the Commonwealth to be an advocate to provide accessible legislation that is implemented.

Ending the day with a brainstorming session to identify policy and action-oriented to three high priority challenges faced by persons with disabilities. This session was facilitated by Devika Malik, Asia representative for Commonwealth Youth Sports for Peace and Development network, and Angelique Pouponneau, the vice chairperson for inclusion and engagement of the Commonwealth Youth Council.

The ambitious and progressive young people provided ideas such as a toolkit to create awareness on the CPRD and persons with disabilities in general which are a central provision of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD), advocating for representatives of youth disabilities in the youth ministries and youth councils, and a call for Ministers to champion this cause but to also sensitise the others that work alongside him. The group made a call for data to be disaggregated based on age, gender and ability and to find innovative ways to capture data from PWDs such as the U-report used by UNICEF.

Finally, Krystle Reid, Commonwealth Young Person of the Year 2017, shared her team’s success story of reusing and distributing smartphones that would have been otherwise destroyed with the support of Samsung Mobile Sri Lanka and introducing the LISN mobile audiobook application for the visually impaired university undergraduates and graduates in view to recognising and activating true inclusion. The “LISN Revolution” project was successfully conducted in some of the largest national universities in Sri Lanka. She reiterated the importance of focusing on non-monetary resources, a call for training to solicit funding from mixed sources of funding, and a focus on social entrepreneurship.

Oliver Dudfield, the Head of Sport for Development and Peace unit of the Youth Division, underscored the importance of the Commonwealth Charter and Sustainable Development Goals on empowering young people and in delivering the closing remarks at the event highlighted “it will key to explore using a rights-based approach in your work of engaging young people living with disabilities and ensuring there is disaggregation of data to give evidence to your work and ensure there is a measurable impact in economic, social, environmental spheres of development.”

The recommendations from this session and other consultations taking place around the Commonwealth will be fed into the discussion at the youth leaders forum and the Commonwealth Youth Ministers’ Meeting, July 2017. The Commonwealth Youth Council welcomes individuals and organisations who would like to volunteer to further advance the #IamABLE campaign.

Upcoming activities include the launch of a ‘myth-buster’ toolkit on persons with autism, a taster session on the new virtual classroom on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and our #IamABLE twitter chat continues on the 3rd Saturday of every month facilitated by Audacious Dreams Foundation.

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This event was sponsored by Mind UK and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

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