YCC Magazine

Vol.2 Issue 2

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w w w . y o u t h c e n t r e s c a n a d a . c o m 25 Y outh Centres are a safe, inclusive environment for youth of all ages and backgrounds to get engaged with their community, make friends and have a great time. Needless to say, we do all we can to make sure our events, programs and activities are accessible to all youth regardless of their mental or physical abilities. According to Statistics Canada, about 3.8 million Canadians reported having a disability in 2012, over 4 percent of them being youth age 15-24. That's over 100,000 Canadian youths who reported having a physical or mental disability, or approximately one student on every school bus. The numbers paint a perfect picture: Youth Centres should be vigilant about doing all we can to make every youth centre a safe and accessible spaces for youth with disabilities. WHAT HAVE WE BEEN DOING TO HELP? In May 2015, YCC conducted a report written by Erica Carson on the accessibility of Canadian youth centres. She sent out surveys and directly interviewed four anonymous youth centres across Canada, and the results were positive. All four centres employed staff with training in areas such as mental health first aid, suicide prevention, autism spectrum disorder training, and mandatory accessibility training. The able-bodied youth were also very helpful in making these youth centres safe and accessible, with only two centres expressing concern with acceptance by able-bodied youth toward disabled youth. However, this was due to behavioural issues and both centres expressed certainty that with some one-on-one support in place, this issue could be eradicated. One centre even has an advocacy committee in place to advocate for accessibility. Most of the youth centres have taken steps to ease barriers that could prevent accessibility and have (and continue to) adjust their programs and activities to promote better accessibility. These steps included proper signage with larger font or braille if necessary, ramps, adaptive technologies, emergency buttons, automated door buttons, grab bars and more accessible washroom facilities. HOW CAN WE CONTINUE TO IMPROVE ACCESSIBILITY? When we think of disabilities, a lot of us immediately think of physical disabilities and tend to forget those who are neuroatypical or have learning disabilities. According to Statistics Canada, more Canadian youth have learning disabilities than all other disabilities combined. Statistics also report that learning disabilities have been steadily increasing since 2001, so we must keep this in mind while considering ways to help youth with disabilities. Many youth centres across Canada report having wheelchair ramps, grab bars and other resources to ease access for youth with physical disabilities, but a surprisingly low number of centres have things like assistive technology for those with mental and learning disabilities. In future, youth centres should focus on both types of disabilities when organizing after school programs, events and other activities that might be more difficult for these youths. In her report, Erica also stressed the importance of using positive and constructive language while dealing with disabled youth. Language can be empowering, but it can also be hurtful. Ensure that members of your youth organization, both staff and youth, avoid using hurtful language. An example of this type of language are words like "retarded" and "special needs," which can come off as derogatory. Erica suggests a national dialogue regarding appropriate language use. Another roadblock that youth centres have consistently come across is the issue of funding. With the lack of government funding in regards to disabled youth over the past several years, and because a lot of youth centres are non-profit organizations, it can be difficult to give staff the proper training, implement the proper tools and technologies, or provide one-on-one support to disabled youth. Most youth centres run on project-based grants. To make sure your youth centre as safe and accessible for all youth: hold a fundraiser! Fundraisers are a great way to raise funds and awareness of the issues and need to be more accessible, and your efforts will not go unnoticed. Erica's report also noted it is important to keep in mind that the parents of disabled youth have a lot on their plates, and it should not always be up to them to ensure that youth centres are accessible to their children. We can work to reduce the onus on parents to facilitate inclusion, and that asking them for their input is often appreciated. This can involve all members of the youth centre- including staff and youth working together to achieve these goals. One suggestion was to organize an advocacy committee and brainstorm ideas for fundraisers, inclusive programs and events, and other ways to make your youth centre fully accessible. Remember to be open about asking questions about disability, what each individual needs, and suggestions for better practices. All in all, youth centres across Canada have done an amazing job at creating safe spaces for all youth, and by taking these next steps we are sure to continue doing so! REFERENCES: Carson, E. (2015). Improving the Accessibility of Canadian Youth Centres. http://www.ldac-acta.ca/learn-more/ld-basics/prevalence-of-lds https://www.reach.ca/equality/stats/index.htm http://mieux-etre.edsc.gc.ca/misme-iowb/indicator.jsp?&indicatorid=40 YOUTH WITH DISABILITIES: How Accessible Are Canada's Youth Centres Really? By Victoria St.Michael

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