Conservative estimates put the population of persons with disabilities in India at 70 million. Of this, a substantial number would be young persons with disabilities. Yet, only a minuscule percentage of youth with disabilities can be seen in the mainstream of any aspect of life in the country; be it workforce, education or anything else. Even today, when India is on its way to becoming a world power to reckon with, its young disabled citizens are struggling for basic rights like education and employment opportunities.
Prior to the 90s, approach of the society towards disability was that of charity and welfare. Therefore, education for people with disabilities meant the concept of ‘special’ schools and employment meant ‘candle making’ and ‘basket weaving’ and so on. But, in the past 2 decades, especially after the Disability Act of 1995, opportunities such as education and employment opened up for people with disabilities. The 3 percent reservation in educational institutions and employment (in public sector organisations) enabled some percentage of this young population to be in the top colleges and universities of the country. This built and continues to build a whole cadre of young talented people with disabilities who are becoming part of various sectors: from government to corporates to the social sector. This new breed of young people are potential leaders of tomorrow.
However, despite this, youth with disabilities do not find the platform for voicing their opinions and highlighting their issues in the disability rights movement. Although, there are now several Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) working in the sector, there is a much felt need for grooming young disabled leaders.
Therefore, to bridge this gap, NCPEDP decided to organize the National Convention for Youth with Disabilities to reach out to these young people. The objective of the Convention was to expose the participants to the social sector movement in India, including disability and other allied fields. This would help us identify and inspire the next generation leadership of not just the Indian disability sector but also those who would be agents of change in other fields.
The Convention is held post an in-house survey of the top universities and colleges of India on the Status of Students with Disabilities in Higher Education. These universities and educational institutions are requested to nominate one male and one female student with disability for the Convention. The nominations go through a screening process and then the shortlisted candidates are invited to participate in the Convention. The Convention usually has around 50 - 75 participants from the top Universities and Colleges across the country and includes addresses and interactive sessions with well known voices of the social sector (including social entrepreneurs), senior leaders from the corporate world, bureaucrats and politicians so as to give a sense of direction to the disabled youth of our nation and to groom them into being ambassadors of change in whatever field they choose to enter after completing their education and in turn ensure that their stories help in creating more awareness and in breaking stereotypes of welfare and charity that are unfortunately still associated with disability in our society.
So far NCPEDP has organized 3 editions of the National Convention for Youth with Disabilities – 2013, 2014 and 2015.