How to Make a Snowball, or Pushing Policies for Inclusive Cities
Inclusion. This word, defined as “The action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure*,” is taking on a greater significance by the day within NET-MED Youth.
The end of August 2016 in Lebanon marked the beginning of a new series of encounters that promote the mainstreaming of youth with disabilities in society. The first workshop organized by members of NET-MED Youth in Lebanon was titled “Empowering Youth and Local Communities on Leadership and Advocacy for the Rights of Young Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).” It was meant as a platform for youth to raise awareness and examine proposals for their local policy-planners to make the public space accessible to all.
“The social inclusion of young persons with disabilities is among our priorities,” says Mona El Zoghbi, Coordinator of NET-MED Youth in Lebanon. “We highly focus on gender and disability mainstreaming in our work, and the National Youth Policy does include a specific recommendation to promote the rights of PWDs.”
And this much is right. The recommendation in question ensures, in theory, that people with disabilities have full access to all public spaces just like any other citizen. But that’s in theory…
Afaf Abou Zahr, a young architect and member of NET-MED Youth from Saida, could not have said it more clearly: “The law to build a facility makes it compulsory to include a ramp or escalator, but this is not applied everywhere… Sadly, this limits the mobility of persons with disabilities.”
Many share the view of Afaf, turning the workshop into a constructive encounter and training of youth from different parts of Lebanon to become leaders and advocates for the rights of PWDs (especially youth) in their local communities. Not only that, youth would identify key priority areas of action that could be included in the National Youth Policy Action Plan. With the help of architect and member of the Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union (LPHU) Ahmad Ezzedine, participants examined the status quo and the different barrier-free concepts for living spaces, particularly, the approach known as Universal Design.
“Our only challenge is limited movement,” says Jinan Saiid, a young woman with reduced mobility. “Our other capacities function very well…. We are part of society. So why are we marginalized?”
The good part is that youth advocates are not starting from scratch. A step back to 2013 will show how all of this piggybacks on UNESCO and interagency work on the social inclusiveness of public policies. It also leans on the mapping, campaigns and monitoring carried out by LPHU in Lebanon for the accessibility of public spaces and the development of relevant local policies. A whole body of knowledge is available to make the best out of this workshop and the series of other related activities to follow.
To further support the cause and to ensure an even higher impact, NET-MED Youth has recently partnered with LPHU in order to expand on the mapping so it also covers public spaces in cities and remote areas outside of cosmopolitan Beirut, and to bring in the public policy component.
“I feel I know a lot more about the daily struggles of persons with disabilities now,” says Ali Al Khatib, a NET-MED Youth member from Bekaa as he compared the approach of the workshop and its subsequent activities to the snowball effect. “I will tell my parents about it, who will tell my uncles and aunts about it, who will tell their friends…. This way, the whole nation will know about the importance of this cause.”
* Definition by Oxford Dictionaries
The role of youth is key in promoting disability mainstreaming in local policy planning and implementation by public authorities. NET-MED Youth strives to make every living space safe, accessible and accommodating to everyone without discrimination or seclusion.
Activities building skills among youth organizations and young journalists; to enhance youth representation in media and promote freedom of expression, media and information literacy and youth-generated media content.
Activities joining youth organizations, employment experts and different national stakeholders to engage in dialogue and work together on unemployment solutions and skills needs.
Activities empowering youth to participate in the communal and national development, revision and implementation of national youth strategies and public policies.