Working together to celebrate differences and inclusion: a discussion with young activists for persons with disabilities and neurodivergent learners

Inspiring young panelists came together to examine effective practices and inclusive policies for students with disabilities and neurodivergent learners for the third webinar of a Youth Webinar Series on the Futures of Education organized with the United Nations Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth. The discussion was moderated by Elisa Guerra, founder of Colegio Valle de Filadelfia in Mexico, educator, and member of the International Commission on the Futures of Education.

Georgine Auma, Director of Studio Kenyan Sign Language at eKitabu was among the panelists and she called for involving teachers, including teachers with disabilities, as well as parents and communities to enact change, recalling the saying “if you want to go fast go alone; if you want to go far go together.”

UNESCO article on Medium posted on 30th April 2021

During his keynote speech, J Grange shared his personal journey, from dealing with a difficult childhood, traumatic experiences of exclusion and struggles with mental health, to being diagnosed with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and eventually finding music and a passion for helping others. His passion was palpable as he highlighted key issues that need to be addressed, including a lack of training, lack of understanding, exclusion and bullying, gender disparities – as 90% of girls with ADHD are believed to be undiagnosed – and outdated curriculums. He emphasized that education systems and teacher training need to change to ensure they celebrate differences and strengths to combat divisions and inequalities in school and in society. “We should ensure that neurodiversity is seen as a special ability and not an inability,” he said, also noting that 30% of CEOs are neurodiverse. He called for a modern schooling model tailored to individual needs, rather than one focused on preparing students for jobs that may not exist in the future. The existence of role models living with disabilities for children and youth can also be powerful in celebrating differences. He ended his speech by sharing a preview of his new song to be released this summer, titled “We Will Rise”, reflecting his belief that “if we all come together we can make the world a better place.”

 

Fostering inclusion is a collective effort
The panel discussion underscored several of J Grange’s recommendations. Working collectively was a common theme throughout the conversation, with inclusivity as the ultimate goal. Georgine Obura, Director of Studio Kenyan Sign Language and eKitabu, called for involving teachers, including teachers with disabilities, as well as parents and communities to enact change, recalling the saying “if you want to go fast go alone; if you want to go far go together.” Gabriel Heredia, activist for the rights of persons with disabilities, member of the Latinamerican Youth Network META and activist in the Asperger Chubut League, also noted that it is important to consider the training offered to families, professionals, teachers and institutions. Several speakers, including the moderator Elisa Guerra, emphasized the important role of parents and the need to support them and facilitate communication with teachers. Mind Thitiphorn Prawatsricha, from the Network of Music and Arts for persons with disabilities, agreed that teachers, parents and communities can take steps for inclusion, but governments also need to step up with education policy and financial resources. Sylvain Obedi, a National Youth Gender Activist, Human Rights Activist, and Co-Founder of Enable the Disable Action, also highlighted the importance of educating families and communities to foster inclusivity. He elaborated on raising awareness of differences, fighting violence in schools, changing education policies and ensuring the participation of learners with disabilities in the evaluation of their own needs, with an emphasis on including girls with disabilities in decision-making processes.

 

Avenues to promote inclusion and solidarity
Other avenues for inclusion were discussed by the panelists. Georgine Obura, who is passionate about bringing accessible learning materials closer to learners with disabilities, noted that technology can provide a pathway to make learning more accessible to children with disabilities. The role of arts, music and sport was also discussed, as Mind Thitiphorn Prawatsrichai explained that music and the arts can facilitate new ways of teaching and learning, self-expression, and heal stress and mental health issues. Sylvain Obedi discussed the benefits of sport, not only for physical well-being but also for social cohesion. He explained that when children, both with and without disabilities, can play sports together, it increases visibility and builds relationships, which can change people’s mindsets and foster inclusivity.

 

The event concluded as panelists shared their key takeaways. The inspiring speakers were hopeful for an education that is inclusive for all – one that recognizes differences and ensures rights for persons with disabilities to leave no one behind. The discussion revealed that collective efforts, along with proper training, support, and awareness, can create a brighter future where persons with disabilities and neurodivergent learners are not only seen, but celebrated.

 

The discussion at this webinar will inform work of the International Commission and the report forthcoming in November 2021. If you would like to learn more about this discussion, we invite you to watch the recording of the event, available here (in the PAST WEBINARS section, Webinar #31 – available in English, French and Spanish).