Campaigner profile: Norris Cummins, Guyana

Norris Cummins

Norris Cummins really enjoys his job. He is a graphic designer and runs his own business which he has called “Footworks Inc”. Norris uses his feet to do almost everything, including using the computer, as he has no use of his hands.

Norris was born with cerebral palsy and only started to walk at the age of 11. His family have always been really supportive and encouraged him to get a good education. He realised his passion for Graphic Design while studying IT and this motivated him to set up his own business. Sometimes people question whether he’ll be able to do a job efficiently because of his disability – but he always proves them wrong.

Norris joined Young Voices Guyana in March 2009 and since then has been a very active campaigner. One of the campaigns he was proud to take part in was distributing 200 musical and promotional CDs about disability to minibus and taxi drivers in Guyana. After the campaign people with disabilities reported experiencing less discrimination when trying to access public transport.

Norris’s message to the world is: ‘People with disabilities have abilities. Stop discrimination. Promote and fulfil their rights.’

Scholarships for people with disabilities in Liberia

J Swaray Kolleh

My name is J Swaray Kolleh and I am a member of Young Voices Bopolu, Liberia. I have a physical disability and am unable to hold anything with my right arm. Before joining Young Voices I rarely went out in public and my parents always thought of me as a burden. I am now the secretary of Young Voices Bopolu. I chair meetings, plan campaign strategies with the group, and meet with local and national authorities. It’s really built my confidence.

Recently we found out that of all the scholarships awarded in the county of Bopolu, not one has gone to a disabled person. We have been very persistent in campaigning to change this, using Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the right to education. We have lobbied the county authorities and built support among people who have influence with the District Representative.

As a result, a Scholarship position at the SMART Institute College in Monrovia was awarded to Young Voices Bopolu. The scholarship is going to me. I’m so excited and my parents are really proud. I can’t believe that I’m leaving Bopolu to attend college in Monrovia.

But our campaigning doesn’t stop there. We are currently advocating for the County’s scholarship committee to approve our resolution that 15% of all scholarship programs are awarded to people with disabilities.

Ashwini Angadi wins a UN education award

Ashwini Angadi, Young Voices member from India, speaking at the UN in New York

Ashwini Angadi, a Young Voices campaigner from India, received a ‘UN Youth Courage Award for Education’ on 12th July as part of the celebrations for Malala Day.

The award was presented to her at the UN in New York by Gordon Brown, who is currently the UN Special Envoy for Global Education. She was chosen for the award for showing exemplary leadership and perseverance in standing up for the right to education, often against some of the most adverse circumstances.

Born with a visual impairment, Ashwini was brought up in a poor rural community in India. She fought to get an education, and overcame the odds to graduate from Bangalore University with outstanding grades. She gave up an excellent job with an IT firm to work as a facilitator for Young Voices in India, and campaign for the rights of people with disabilities.

Campaigner profile: Wanja Maina

Wanja Maina, Young Voices campaigner from Kenya, standing in front of a map of the worldEntrepreneur and charity founder Wanja Maina is currently studying at the United States International University in Nairobi, pursuing a bachelor degree in International business administration. Hannah makes curios and beads to sell locally. This helps to fund her education.

Wanja is a very active Young Voices campaigner. She has helped make a documentary about the lives of disabled people living in Kibera, one of Africa’s biggest slums. She is also the founder of the ‘Friends of Wanja Initiative,’ a mentorship programme at Joy-town primary school which supports people with disabilities to feel empowered to learn.

A Young Voices campaign that Wanja is particularly passionate about is her work with African albinos. Many locals believe that there are magical properties in the blood, bones and skin of people with albinism, a medical condition in which the body produces little or no pigment. She has recently supported a person with albinism to share their story with the media. She is also talking to people locally to help change attitudes and dispel the myths surrounding albinism.

Wanja is currently celebrating the first milestone of this campaign: “The number of albinos living in Africa is not known at the moment, but we are delighted as the government has agreed to officially record and monitor these statistics. Once they have an idea of numbers more action can be taken to support people with albinism.”

Follow Wanja’s Huffington Post blog.

Posted in Kenya, Taking Action and tagged ,

Young Voices campaigners from India overcome the odds to achieve outstanding exam results

Young Voices member from India Kartik Sawhney

Young Voices campaigner from India Kartik Sawhney almost didn’t get the opportunity to study science at school because of his visual impairment. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) was not convinced Kartik would be able to handle the ‘visual inputs’ – graphs, diagrams and models – required for science. He wrote more than two dozen letters to the CBSE, had an NGO campaign and his school negotiate for him. He has proved all the efforts were worth it by scoring a 95% aggregate in science with computers and he is now off to Stanford University to study computer science.

Meanwhile, another Young Voices campaigner, Vibhu Sharma, became the first visually impaired student in India to write her Board exams with the help of JAWS screen-reading software. She passed her exams with flying colours, with an overall aggregate mark of 90%, and came top of the year in Multimedia and Web Technology. Young Voices have been campaigning tirelessly for over a year to make this happen. Vibhu went to the CBSE office several times, to give them a demo of how she used computer and explain how it made people who are visually impaired independent. Just two days before the Board Exams, the CBSE took a giant step forward by allowing all visually challenged students to use computers with JAWS, a major policy change and a great achievement for Young Voices.

Young Voices campaigners in Zimbabwe influence the new constitution

Young Voices campaigners in Zimbabwe captured the demands of people with disabilities and their expectations of the new Zimbabwean constitution in a consultation they arranged with DPOs, civil society organisations and Young Voices campaigners. They developed a position paper from the consultation that was submitted to the Advisor to the President and Cabinet on Disability issues.

The final draft of the constitution was published in January 2013, and in a March referendum it was voted for by 94% of the population. Five of the seven recommendations made by Young Voices in the position paper were taken forward in the new constitution. These are:

1. People with disabilities were included and participated in the process of drafting the constitution.
2. The constitution has a clause stating that government will create programmes for the employment of people with disabilities.
3. The constitution mainstreams disability in various national socio – economic and cultural programmes.
4. The constitution encourages the use of forms of communication accessible to people with disabilities.
5. Sign language is to be made an official language.

Making the Forbidden City of Beijing accessible

A group of Young Voices campaigners in China have made history by using social media to make parts of the ancient Forbidden City of Beijing accessible to people with disabilities for the first time.

the entrance to the forbidden city in beijingThe Forbidden City is made up of a series of interconnected rooms, many with high thresholds which make wheelchair access impossible. The whole infrastructure is old and uneven, making movement around the city difficult.

The Young Voices used social media sites such as QQ to highlight the accessibility issues to the site. As a result, over 50 people with disabilities went on a group sightseeing trip to the Forbidden City. As they struggled to help the wheelchair users and people with sensory difficulties, the staff working at the site were faced with the reality of how many barriers there were. The staff passed on that message to the senior management who agreed to reinstall and develop the accessibility including ramps and lifts.

Not satisfied with conquering the Forbidden City, the Young Voices are also working with the China Disabled Person Federation to tackle accessibility issues at the Great Wall of China, one step at a time.

Congcong, one of the campaigners says: “Sites like the Forbidden City are of great national and international importance. Everyone has the right to enjoy such beauty. The City is a historic building but now it is also a building of the future.”