A new project, run by the Youth Disability Advocacy Service (YDAS), is striving to help youth workers ensure their services are more inclusive. The Together project is the first of its kind in Victoria. It was co-designed and co-facilitated by young people with disability and wants to encourage a more inclusive youth sector.
For Swinburne student Stella, one of the Together co-designers, accessibility and inclusion are about ‘bringing disabled people along’.
‘I know I’ve had some experiences where I haven’t felt included and that’s made me really upset. And then I have been included and it’s a really good feeling. It just feels like you’re like everyone else and you’re not being excluded for having a disability,’ Stella said.
One in ten young people have a disability. But many of the youth focused organisations those young people interact with don’t always know how to be inclusive.
‘Often we hear services say that everybody is welcome and that everybody can come. But when someone with disability comes, services are unsure of how to best support them,’ YDAS Project Officer Sebastian Antoine said.
It’s a thought echoed by Bethany, another Together co-designer.
‘We found over the course of the project that usually youth workers are fairly accepting and inclusive of young people with a disability already, they just don’t actively include,’ Bethany said.
‘One of the really good materials that we bring up in our workshop is a poster or an invite to an event. At the bottom corner of this poster is a bright yellow box that says we are committed to being inclusive to everyone. And I just think putting it there, stating it. It’s not just assumed, but they are committed to it. And just that whole idea that they’re publicly saying it. People know that they can be included.’ Bethany said.
I’ve grown so much in accepting my disability
For Bethany, working as a co-designer on the Together project has had a significant personal impact.
‘I think that that I’ve grown so much in accepting my disability,’ she said.
‘It’s only been a six-month project, but I feel like I’ve grown so much over that period of time,’ Bethany said, citing her fellow co-designers as being just some of the people who she has learnt from.
‘Before I started this job, I tended to hide [my disability] more also, so not a lot of people knew about it.’
‘Coming into this job allowed me to accept my disability more. It allowed me to seek out help for my disability more,’ she said.
Stella too feels she has learnt from her co-designers as much as she has been able to teach them.
‘What is very important to me is being able to educate all young people with disabilities. I really felt like I was able to do that by talking about the sorts of things that I’m really passionate about,’ she said.
‘I don’t feel disabled people are really, they’re more like put to the side a lot. It felt good to share my experience. I believe it’s important to get those voices out there and advocate for people with disabilities,’ Stella said.
Asking question leads to a more inclusive youth sector
The first step towards becoming more accessible and inclusive is to ask young people with disability how to do better.
‘Always ask them how they would like to work with you. If you feel like it might be a silly question, don’t worry, chances are someone else has already asked that question,’ Sebastian said.
For Stella and Bethany, their hope is that projects like Together will lead to a far more inclusive and accessible society more broadly.
‘I hope the youth services will think more about including young people with disabilities and their programs, which will then allow people with disabilities to feel included and valued,’ Stella said.
‘The best possible outcome for this Together project, I’d say that people know that there are others that will listen to them and help them. And they know where to go if they need help or support. And I think that everyone in the community will learn to be inclusive, not just the youth sector. I reckon that would be an amazing outcome if that eventually happens,’ Bethany said.
The Together project’s online resources include a number of pieces about values alongside practical advice and tips for inclusion and accessibility.
More information about the Together Project can be found here: https://www.yacvic.org.au/ydas/together/
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