Why youth services must be accessible
1 July 2020 at 7:14 pm
Without accessibility for all young people, services can harm groups of society that already have a hard time accessing the world around them, writes Issy Orosz, in a new monthly column injecting the voices of young people into the social change sector.
As a young person, I am biased but justified in saying that youth services are a crucial part of Australian society. Without them, young people like myself can feel devalued, and without advocacy and services in the youth sector we can feel completely ignored or alienated.
That’s why it is especially important that these services and programs are accessible to all young people. Young people as a group have unique needs compared to the rest of the population. But we are certainly not a single, homogenous group. This is especially notable as approximately one in five people have a disability. As such, there are many different and important access needs that must be considered when any youth service or program exists.
As a young person who has disability, chronic pain, mental illness and is queer, and who often, has many access requirements, I ask you to listen to those of us who need more support in accessing all of the wonderful services that you have to offer.
So, what does accessibility of services look like? Accessibility is often thought of as the capacity of people to use and access buildings, which is an important factor, but certainly not the whole picture. Physical accessibility is hugely important, and whenever an event or service is held in person the access to the building and the space must be comprehensive. Where failures of accessibility exist, these must be shared with any potential participants.
Directly telling participants what features are inaccessible or creating a comprehensive access key, that is readily available and discusses what accessibility concerns aren’t catered for (which is a necessity anyway), is a first step that all youth services and organisations should take on board. As an autistic person, if spaces and events don’t have access keys my participation in the program might be limited due to the overstimulation and anxiety that new places provoke for me. Without them, I may choose not to participate at all, which isn’t fair. Being open about accessibility is for the benefit of the young people with access needs but also for the service, in creating a culture of inclusion where everybody can access the same opportunities and is empowered to make their own unique and important contributions.
Additionally, accessibility includes the use of language, and different types of language and understanding. Whether it is relating to gender, sexuality, disability, cultural identity or any other aspect of young people’s lives, if language is not inclusive then it is not accessible and young people will not want to participate in these programs. Ensuring that Plain English options, audio recordings of information, captions on videos, alt-text on all photos, inclusive language in general, options on forms, and anything else are all available is so important to engaging young people on their terms.
Accessibility is not as simple as putting a few measures in place, there is a lot more to it. But a way in which youth services can be sure that the services they provide are suitable and accessible for the young people who use them is actually asking young people what they want. Allowing young people of all identities, and in particular with different access needs, to be involved in developing different programs (and paying them for it!) is a really great way to hear their thoughts on accessibility and programs overall. After all, if the programs are not co-designed with young people, how do you know young people will even be getting what they want and deserve out of them?
Finally, and probably most importantly, is that youth services need to be flexible. This is because as young people, we have diverse needs which can and do change all the time, and the supports and services made for us need to be able to adapt accordingly. If the access requirements of groups/individuals are different than they have been before, it is the responsibility of the service to ensure the new access requirements are taken care of. It is also important to ensure that there are adequate and accessible feedback report processes for young people who participate in programs, so they can provide feedback if they saw or experienced something inaccessible. It can be hard to take criticism, especially if it is something that is hard to change, but that’s why it is so important to listen and be flexible.
Youth services are for young people – all young people – and as such they must be inclusive and accessible for all young people, because that’s the job of a youth service. Without accessibility for all young people, these services will harm groups of society that already have a hard time accessing the world around them.
This article is part of a monthly series, Youth Matters, a collaboration between Youth Affairs Council Victoria and Pro Bono Australia to inject the voices of young people into the social change sector.