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Breaking Barriers: Empowering Young Ugandans with Disabilities

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Emily DiMatteo
June 21, 2021

Youth organizations and youth-led movements bring unique perspectives to the forefront of communities across many policy issues. While these movements have a long history around the world, marginalized young people’s concerns often go unnoticed. The personal challenges people with disabilities face, coupled with the associated social stigma, can make it difficult for people with disabilities to fully participate in their communities. Such is the case in Uganda, where young people with disabilities often are left out of “mainstream” youth movements. Despite the Ugandan disability movement’s formation in 1960, specific concerns regarding young people with disabilities typically are not addressed.

Because of this exclusion, youth with disabilities in Uganda were unable to contribute to decisionmaking processes or access resources available to them. Responding to this oversight and recognizing the unique challenges of youth with disabilities, the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) created a committee called NUDIPU-Youth in 2003. It has received funding from the Norwegian Association of the Disabled and the Danish Association of Youth with Disabilities. Since its founding, NUDIPU-Youth has worked to amplify the voices of youth with disabilities within the Ugandan disability movement, national and local governments and civil society organizations.

In 2016, NUDIPU-Youth facilitated a project, “Empowerment of Youth with Disabilities in Uganda 2016-2019,” to engage 1,000 Ugandan young people with disabilities. The project’s goal was to equip participants with advocacy skills to promote their inclusion in a variety of national and local organizations. It employed several methods to facilitate cooperation across a wide range of stakeholders, including advocacy and gender trainings, media advocacy, dialogue and deliberative meetings.

The advocacy and gender trainings were conducted in 10 local districts and focused on life skills, leadership, advocacy and communication skills for participants. About 500 youth with disabilities attended these trainings, including female-only events to discuss gender issues through role plays, open discussions and presentations. In addition, NUDIPU-Youth held a four-day intensive training on leadership, economic empowerment and other topical areas. These efforts increased awareness of rights and resources, self-empowerment and engagement of youth with disabilities within their communities.

The media advocacy stage trained 72 journalists and reporters from national media outlets to appropriately and effectively report on disability issues, focusing specifically on the inclusion of youth perspectives. Youth with disabilities directly contributed to press releases and conferences that were publicized on the radio and TV.

The dialogue meetings combined various stakeholders including policymakers, parents, caretakers and youth-focused civil society organizations where youth with disabilities could present on issues and share an inclusive guide they had formulated. These meetings included role playing and group discussions at national and local levels, leading to increased understanding among stakeholders. The meetings also resulted in commitments from policymakers to include youth with disabilities in public planning processes. Additionally, several local districts created “District Operation Plans” focusing on the specific concerns of the disability community. A national policy guideline focusing on young Ugandans was revised to include youth with disabilities that can be enforced by community leaders through national and local programming.

Finally, the deliberative meetings facilitated partnerships with national government bodies and youth-led civil society organizations. This led almost 50 civil society organizations and government bodies to consider the development of inclusive guides within their respective organizations. Consultations continued afterward to ensure implementation and routine monitoring field visits with stakeholders were conducted. Following this stage, several civil society organizations committed to including youth with disabilities in their programming and created inclusive guides focused on disability issues. Cooperation with the national government specifically led to the inclusion of a representative on the government’s Committee for National Youth Council and a representative from the Ministry of Gender to participate in the NUDIPU Project Management Committee. Additionally, several youth with disabilities participated in the Commonwealth Youth Ministers Forum.

NUDIPU-Youth’s project highlights the impact of community engagement in moving toward including young people with disabilities in various environments. Facilitating such collaboration on a local and national level introduced new perspectives on inclusion, often directly from the young Ugandans with disabilities themselves.

Although stigma of disability still permeates communities around the world and systemic issues still exclude people with disabilities, this project offers insight into community organizing and outreach to empower young people with disabilities and create meaningful policy change. It is a potentially replicable example for communities across the world, as it can be adapted for other marginalized groups across a range of abilities and identities. As issues of inclusion increase across international and local policy levels, it will become increasingly important to facilitate integrating the disability community. NUDIPU-Youth offers a model for such work.

To learn more about this case visit https://participedia.net/case/5436. To read about other innovative applications of public participation, visit www.participedia.net.

Author: Emily DiMatteo is pursuing a Master of Arts in International Relations and a Certificate of Advanced Study in the European Union & Contemporary Europe at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She is passionate about the empowerment and inclusion of people with disabilities, with a large focus on international disability policy. Prior to her graduate studies, she completed a Fulbright U.S. Student Scholarship in the Czech Republic from 2019-2020. Emily received her Honors Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Villanova University in December 2018, summa cum laude.

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