By Hailey Fox
The recent participation of META in the Conference of States Parties (CoSP), on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, was a true testament to the resilience of META’s young advocacy. The backbone of META is built out of the qualities observed by the executive director of the International Disability Alliance’s , Vladimir Cuk, of META being “new, loud, innovative,” of not conforming to a particular model but letting the movement take its form in a continually changing fashion based on the various voices represented by its young members. By remaining so adaptable, META is a movement that will “shape its future as well as that of the generations to come.”
The very essence of META was demonstrated by the collaboration of our six young disability advocates in New York in June 2019. Three were veterans of META with years of activism around social and educational participation for youth with and without disabilities. The other three were newly integrated to the movement but carefully selected based on their individual histories of activism and their personal experiences with disability and disability inclusion. We were thrown together for a busy week of activities both in the United Nations and in the surrounding development agencies. In each of those environments, we needed the present as the united face of META, explain META’s foundation and history and its current methodology as well as address its current challenges and maintain support for future projects and travels.
The six participants, representing Uruguay, United States, Costa Rica, Argentina and Nicaragua, were a diverse recipe of skills, some with extensive leadership and public speaking experience, others with a focus on graphic design or sign language advocacy. We represented different types of disabilities and races and nationalities. Yet there was an immediately apparent commonality between us, a sincere dedication to the reason for having traveled such great distances to present a strong and united face for youth with disabilities at the UN. Sharing a small apartment for the week provided ample opportunities for bonding. We became quickly familiar and transparent with one another as we prepared for META’s presentation at CoSP and for meetings with funding agencies and potential partners.
We also shared moments of decompression at the end of extremely long days in the busy city of New York. Those moments were just as important as the educational moments observing exciting side events at CoSP, just as important as the plethora of networking opportunities we encountered at each event. It allowed us the space to think critically about the day’s chaos and to process everything we’d learned. It also gave us the opportunity to reflect on META’s role at CoSP- to be one of the underrepresented voices of youth activism, in addition to the valuable testimonies provided by our partners, such as Leonard Cheshire and UNICEF.
Through this end-of-the-day reflection, we were able to consider META as a school of leaders and ask ourselves- how do those of us who have been working with META since its early days of creation in Costa Rica and Uruguay, sustain the same enthusiasm and initiative that we felt in those formative months? Our current challenge is to divide tasks and recognize individual strengths as a leadership team. This will enable META to both identify and solicit the financial support needed to sustain the international activism that is a key part of META’s identity, as well as replicate the movement in countries which are recently integrated but have a wealth of experience and local practices to offer, such as Brazil and Nicaragua.
Only Young People Can Do It
We had valuable exchanges with some of our partner institutions in New York and the suggestion came up more than once during those discussions- should META formalize itself by establishing as an organization? In doing so, we increase our potential funding but we must use caution not to compromise the very spirit that Vladimir Cuk used to define META’s identity- there are certain changes in the field of disability advocacy that only young people can make because it involves thinking outside the box.
META’s past convenings have resulted in beautifully natural collaborations, such as merging cerebral palsy with sign language to mutually benefit dexterity and communication. META welcomes activists with and without disabilities. It involves overcoming physical and communication barriers by sharing responsibilities without depending on one another. A blind advocate might share a hotel room at a conference with a deaf youth and recognize the mutual access to communication and physical spaces that is achieved when there are at least two of you, working together, in an exchange of support roles, to create full access to the conference content. This exchange, which has taken place without precedence at virtually every international convening in which META has participated, has remained constant since META’s inception. There is an integral ability of META members to connect over a common experience of exclusion while visualizing a collaborative approach to inclusion as an inherent human right.