New Media Training Bridges Digital Gap for Disabled African Youth

For many of us, it is easy to take for granted our abilities and access to progress in many aspects of our lives, including employment, housing and education.  However, if one has a physical disability, access can be very limited.  It is estimated that there are a billion disabled people worldwide, 80 percent of them living in developing countries.

The great thing about technology is that it levels the playing field for people of all abilities.  The Open Society Youth Initiative (YI) started a social media training program through its Disability Rights Initiative (DRI) to support the advancement of disabled persons.  The initiative comes out of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The program formed by YI and DRI is called the African Youth with Disabilities Network (AYWDN), which “was created as a way to bring together young Africans from across the continent with the aim of creating inclusive societies where people with disabilities can live better lives with dignity and contribute to and influence the internal political debates.”

The network had a conference earlier this month in Dakar, Senegal, with dozens of Africans with disabilities from many countries in attendance.  The workshops trained attendees not only on how to use social media, but to also advocate for their causes using these new media tools.

Kenyan blogger Rebecca Wanjiku reported from the conference.  She said that many attendees at first felt that they couldn’t do it, but changed their minds when the training was over.

…“My ignorance had made me believe that social media is tough and I can not make it, now I can do it and I feel good,” said Medi from Uganda.

Good people, I feel so good when I hear that after training. It makes all worth it. If I can “convert” or make one person who wasn’t  media do it, its worth it.

In this training, I had lots of people who used twitter for the first time, integrated it with Facebook, and you could see the smiles on their faces. At the beginning of the twitter training, Nicholette from Namibia tweeted me that she was confused…. but at the end of the day, she was tweeting and replying through @AYWDN_Namibia which goes on to show that it can be tough at the n, but it all comes together…

Liberian Daintowon Pay-bayee became disabled when she was only five years old.   Today she is an accomplished disability rights advocate.

…Disability is not inability. To fight discrimination and change public perceptions, we need to begin talking about youth with disabilities in our homes, our neighborhoods, and on the national and international stage.

Donors, governments, and the media need to give this issue urgent attention. Perceptions of people with disabilities are degrading. We need to encourage the potential in all of our young people.

I will keep working for my dream of living in an inclusive society where I am judged not by my physical limitations but by my potential and my character…

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