Working with young people with disabilities [2012]

What does disability include?

Having a disability can mean many things, such as loss of physical or mental functions, loss of a part of the body, having an infectious disease or illness, a condition which means a person learns differently from other people and any condition which affects a person's thoughts and processes. When you think about this range, it is likely that some of your existing clients, and possibly staff, have a disability.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) provides protection for everyone in Australia against discrimination based on disability.

Under the DDA it is against the law to discriminate against a person with a disability in the provision of goods and services, education, sports, access to public facilities and accommodation. These cover all types of youth work. Discrimination can be direct and therefore obvious, but can also be indirect and hidden in the policy of an organisation or the way they conduct their service.

What can youth workers do to make their services more accessible to young people with disabilities?

You may need to first look at your organisation's policies. Do you have an Access & Equity policy that ensures all young people enjoy full access to your service? If not, you might contact other services to ask if you can look at theirs. YAPA also has an access and equity guide available (see below).

If you do have a policy, is it being implemented? Are there achievable strategies in the policy that you will act on or is it just another policy that is put away on the shelf? Perhaps you need to apply for funding for a support worker or interpreter to ensure these strategies are achieved.

There may be a number of barriers within your service that need to be addressed to ensure your service is accessible. While your funding and staff levels may be tight, with some creativity and understanding you can create change.

Physical barriers

This includes accessibility to and within the building, eg. ramps, doorways and clear pathways, lack of appropriate transport to programs and the service, fliers and information in inaccessible locations and formats.

If your centre is not accessible, relocate specific programs to another accessible venue.

Produce your fliers in different formats, use larger print (14 point) and relevant pictures.

Attitudinal barriers

This includes language of workers and young people in the service, misunderstandings of nature of the disabilities and of the needs of young people with a disability.

Organise disability awareness training for workers in your service or local area. Have people with different disabilities as guest speakers.

Plan integrated programs specifically targeted at young people with disabilities, this will allow all young people to mix and learn from each other.

Structural barriers

This includes lack of policies to address access issues, employment practices, program/service delivery inflexible or inappropriate for all young people.

Some tips for working with young people with a disability

If you remember and practice the following five things, you have the skills needed to work with young people with a disability.

  1. Young people with disabilities have the same needs as other young people.

  2. If you feel a young person with a disability needs assistance, ask them.

  3. If a young person with a disability wants assistance, ask them what they want you to do.

  4. When another person is accompanying a young person with a disability, speak to the young person with the disability and not to the person who is accompanying them.

  5. There is no such thing as the typical young person who is blind, deaf or has MS, Cerebral Palsy, Quadriplegia, Downs Syndrome, an intellectual disability, etc. Likewise, people from different cultural backgrounds are not the same. They are all individuals. Though two young people may have the same disability, they may not do their day to day living tasks in the same way or use the same equipment or aides to get around.

Now that you have a more accessible service, market it! Let people know about the access you provide on all your promotional material, go out and visit organisations and groups who already work with young people with a disability.

Useful contacts and resources