Survey with the same title focused on the opinions and experiences of young people with disabilities was carried out from the end of September till beginning of November 2022 as one of the Ascend project activities. Slovak Disability Council and Slovak Youth Council collaborated on this task. The survey revealed several interesting findings. First of all, it should be noted that active motivated young people who have potential to be leaders in their communities have participated in the survey. This is evidenced by their relatively rich experience in overcoming a number of barriers that people with disabilities encounter but it did not deter them from further activity. We can recognize among them interest in public affairs and in status of young people with disabilities in Slovakia.
The main obstacles that respondents encounter daily are physical barriers, mainly because of the absence of barrier-free access in public spaces. Nevertheless, they also challenge the limits caused by their disability and related health problems. Despite these barriers, they evaluate current life situations through the point of view of personal achievements, whether in studies, employment or family life.
The educational system plays a significant role in the forming of personality. For these people, school is not just a way of obtaining a qualification but also offers support and understanding during the educational process, which has a crucial motivational impact on their adult life. An essential role in this process is teachers and other pedagogical workers with whom youngsters are in contact. Respondents mainly represented the research sample with a high school or university education. Most respondents completed their education at traditional schools, and approximately one-third at special schools. The vast majority of respondents participated in extracurricular activities during their studies, which played a role in acquiring many of their life skills.
Factors for success at work or other areas of life show that it is mainly communication skills and personal predispositions for managing obstacles and barriers related to one’s disability. Further on, it is a supportive social network which could be activated if needed. Based on respondents’ experiences, physical disability is the biggest obstacle to entering the labour market. Besides, it is also prejudice based on stereotypes and the lack of social acceptance of disabled people in society.
Most respondents have no experience with national or international programs for young people with disabilities. The problem is mainly the lack of information, but some also lack courage. Only a few respondents participated in these programs, primarily short-term mobilities.
Respondents that participated in this research have a relatively rich social background. They are not only in contact with young people with disabilities but also with those with no disabilities. Nevertheless, for most respondents, it is essential to keep in touch with other young people with disabilities, mainly because of sharing similar life situations and, therefore, a better understanding of their experience. A small part of the respondents does not consider such a connection vital since they emphasise inclusion and refuse to associate disability as a principal difference. The concern regarding the creation of mixed communities is prejudice on the part of young people with no disabilities.
In the evaluation of leisure, most respondents declared that they have enough free time, which they mainly associate with their interests and hobbies and as time spent with family and friends. Among the preferred activities are primarily reading, online entertainment, education, personal development, sports or time spent in nature.
The survey sample represents a category of young people highly engaged in active civic life. 90% of them have participated in activities related to civic or political participation in the past 12 months. Participation in online activities is also popular. Compared to the general population of youth, the rate of involvement in voluntary action is also high.
Respondents are motivated to engage not only by a strong affiliation towards democratic principles but also by a feeling of usefulness or personal fulfilment through helping others. The disability encourages them to engage, which impacts the community of people with the same disadvantage. Civic engagement of respondents has a positive drive and belief in the effect of their actions and the potential of a positive outcome.
Civic and political participation is mostly the respondents’ initiative. Friends, classmates or family can also initiate participation. The biggest obstacle in civic engagement seems to be the lack of information, time or inaccessibility due to physical, informational or communication barriers.
Respondent’s involvement in the activities of youth organisations or organisations for people with disabilities is also relatively high. There are specific gaps in the evaluation of the activities of organisations bringing together people with disabilities. Around half of the respondents think that these organisations are not much active in promoting the interests of young people with disabilities. However, according to the respondents, these organisations may vigorously represent people with disabilities in legislative processes.
Based on the questionnaire and focus group findings, they should expand their offer to make organisations more appealing to young people. There is a high demand for an organisation that would enable members to connect, network, share activities or interests, etc., to create a community of people united by something other than their personal disadvantage. An essential requirement is also the creation of an offer that will correspond with the preferences of today’s young people with disabilities. They often mention making the overall proposal for young people more attractive, bringing it closer to their interests and needs, and bringing it closer to technological and communication trends in young people’s behaviour.
Around a quarter of respondents also have experience with involvement in other non-governmental and non-profit organisations or various civic initiatives. They are motivated by the possibility of being in regular contact with other people, the need to be socially engaged or the desire to help others. Respondents who are not yet involved in such a way mainly mentioned the lack of offers that would be suitable and interesting for them and the general lack of information about the activities of such organisations and initiatives that would be available for young people with disabilities.
Respondents also lack awareness of the rights of people with disabilities. Only a quarter of respondents know the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Some respondents had noticed this term before but didn’t know anything about it; the rest didn’t know what it was.
Source: Magazine Mosty inklúzie, issue 05/ 2022