A Global Disability Summit for Youth

On the first day of the Global Disability Summit, 14 February, 2022, global youth with disabilities will gather to have their own meeting. The goal for the Global Disability Summit Youth is to give a voice to disabled youth and create engagement and commitments that will carry on into the future, giving support, knowledge and power to youth with disabilities and their organisations.

A Plea from Youth Mental Health Norway

Youth with disabilities are amongst the most marginalized and poorest of the world’s youth population. Compared to youth without disabilities, those with a disability face a greater chance of experiencing severe economic or social disparities.  Youth with disabilities are faced daily with the fear of discrimination, abuse, lack of education, and missing opportunities that should be there for them.

Youth represents the seeds we grow and sow. They are our past, present, and future in many ways. Unfortunately, much like seeds, youth are also in a vulnerable stage in life. Disability can be particularly tough on youth as it hits them in a developmental stage that can restrict their ability to grow, learn, engage, and thrive and these restrictions have the possibility of having lifelong consequences.

There are many causes and consequences of global challenges such as poverty, inequality, and violence. For instance, mental health is no exception to this rule of simultaneous cause and effect; disability can cause mental health issues, and mental health issues can also cause disability. There are predictions that depression will be the single largest contributor to the global burden of disease by 2030, and the most common reason for early death. Suicide is already one of the leading causes of death in youth – much more so in the Global South than in the North.

Mental health is just one example, but disability spans over a much broader spectrum, each with its challenges and possibilities. To combat the negative impact disability can have on personal, societal, and economic values, we must prepare well for the Global Disability Summit in February (GDS) 2022. We must gather data and insights on disability among youth, as well as map out a contact network of potential partners to strengthen our effort for change.  

Youth Mental Health Norway and International Disability Alliance Youth are organizing the Youth Summit at the GDS. Our efforts at the GDS will be based on a sound and solid case, to present the necessity of youth advocacy and accountability. We aim for commitments and plans that can be (objectively) monitored in the future, by for example defining policies and programs that can be analyzed and influenced. Not least do we strive for accountability and engagement from our partners after the summit.

To achieve this the inclusion of youth with disabilities in the Global South is imperative - they will be at the forefront of this conversation. Youth can harbor an enormous source of energy and potential. Not only can they be the source of joy and wellbeing for many, but youth can also represent a strong drive, a fresh look, or a key advocate for positive change. Especially lasting change.

They are therefore an ally we can’t go without, making pre-summit advocacy so important.

The First Ever Youth Summit

In 2018 during the GDS in London, the UK based organisation of persons with disabilities (OPD), Include Me Too, was asked to support children and youth to participate in the summit by preparing and delivering the Global Disability Summit Children and Young Persons Programme. However, this will be the first time the global youth is appointed to create their own summit, which will solely focus on the voices of the global youth with disabilities, most of whom live in developing countries and countries in the midst of humanitarian conflict and crisis. The primary objective of the Youth Summit will be to give disabled youth a platform to discuss approaches to develop universal commitments. We will mobilize new global and national commitments on disability inclusion and raise attention to an overlooked area by displaying the best practice and evidence from youths across the globe.

Thematic Working Groups

The main activity leading up to the summit will be thematic working groups. Prior to the summit, all youth OPDs will sign up for the thematic working group that is most relevant to their work. The following thematic areas are suggested: human rights, health, and rehabilitation (mental health), economic empowerment, inclusive education, disaster risk reduction & humanitarian aid (including an aspect of climate change). The final thematic areas will be discussed and agreed upon by the advisory group(s) that will be put together.

All issues and proposed solutions will be collected by Youth Mental Health Norway before the Youth Summit and used as a basis for an evaluation where all participants will be asked to prioritize the top five issues and solutions within each thematic area. The findings from each thematic area will be summarized and presented at the GDS, and included in the GDS declaration (the 2022 version of the 2018 Charter for Change).

Commitments for Change - Youth Charter

The work towards and during the Youth Summit will also produce its own Youth Charter. The goal of this charter is to unify youth OPDs in a call for action, which will be established before the Youth Summit. The charter will include concrete and attainable goals that can have an impact on the lives of youth with disabilities in the Global South. There is a charter from the 2018 youth program, but the Youth Summit 2022 charter aims to be more comprehensible. The idea is that the charter will be presented at the GDS and that government representatives may sign as many commitments as they want. Once signed, youth OPDs will possess tools to monitor and evaluate governments' progress and success rate in a very concrete manner.

While the framework and roles of responsibilities for cooperation will have to be agreed upon by participating OPDs, an ambition is to have youth DPOs commit to two digital progress meetings a year leading up to the next GDS. These progress meetings will be a great arena for youth DPOs to exchange experiences, success stories, and lessons learned in the aftermath of the Summit - and we believe that these meetings will help motivate youth DPOs to continue engaging with their governments and local authorities.

Youth Mental Health Norway is part of the Atlas Alliance – the umbrella organization for Norwegian DPOs involved in development and humanitarian aid.