One Voice Among Many: Using Youth Assembly as a Platform for Disability and Gender Equality

by Aria Mia Loberti

Through the platform of the Youth Assembly at the United Nations, young leaders can gather together to gain a deeper, more knowledgeable perspective of international affairs and hone their abilities to foster positive change. For me personally, the Youth Assembly is an opportunity to further my understanding of the plethora of key issues, obstacles, and triumphs faced by my peers throughout the world. When fellow aspiring international young leaders connect with each other, each individual develops deepened awareness of world affairs, so that we may return to our communities to enact change. I am beyond inspired to gather with such a broad and diverse range of my peers, who all possess unique passions and represent so many distinct causes.

As an advocate for blind and, like myself, visually impaired individuals, I am exceptionally passionate about spreading awareness of my platform. Particularly, I promote equality for blind and visually impaired students, whose needs are often not accommodated in school. When I was an elementary school student, my public district school department did not meet my visual needs in the classroom; it was nearly impossible for me to experience a school day without experiencing debilitating visual fatigue directly resulting from the absence of services to which I am legally entitled. As a result of our school department's noncompliance to provide my Free and Appropriate Public Education, my family developed a plan to homeschool me to provide the Least Restrictive Environment for my education.

Neglect towards disabled students--visually impaired or otherwise--continues to be a far from unique occurrence in the classroom. Many disabled students are correspondingly not as fortunate as I have been, to receive a high-caliber education through homeschooling and to have the support of my parents as advocates. The root of the problem, in my opinion, is the lack of representation for disabled individuals in every level of the U.S. government.

I have found that, overall, disabled individuals are woefully underrepresented in my community, state, and nation; we have minimal political support, few resources, and scanty representation. The opportunity to be a U.S. Delegate to the Youth Assembly at the United Nations allows my voice to become stronger, so that I can more powerfully share my message of equality. The more people aware of the situation, the faster we can move towards equality in both the education system, socially, and in the workforce. Furthermore, being a part of this delegation allows me--an American high school senior and aspiring medical researcher and policy-maker--to understand what disability services are like in the rest of world.

The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) do not specifically highlight people with disabilities, although the United Nations itself has taken a powerful stand on the issue in other areas of its administration. Concurrently, my goal within the Youth Assembly is to imbue my current disability advocacy efforts with activism for gender equality, Goal 5 of the SDGs. In my personal life, I have witnessed the relationship between the fight for gender equality and disability rights. Disabled women feel the brunt of both struggles. As a legally blind young woman, I personally strive for gender equality, and it is my mission to make known the intersection between gender and disability equality.

The U.S. Aid Website shares the statistic: "75 percent of women with disabilities are unemployed and women with disabilities who are employed often earn less than their male counterparts and women without disabilities." This quote speaks for itself, and it makes clear the need for action. As an elementary school student, I recall my parents and I being told by a school administrator that it was unimportant for me to learn or succeed in mathematics because of my "disability and gender". The fact that such archaic statements and statistics are commonplace is not only saddening in this day and age, but repeated oppression can also discourage young disabled women from pursuing their personal definition of success.

In closing, it is an honor to even be considered to attend the Youth Assembly at the United Nations. It is surreal to be a part of this event, and it is meaningfully humbling to know that I am a part of something much larger than myself, or my cause. I look forward to deepening my knowledge of the world around me and expanding my skills as leader and activist through this platform. I cannot imagine a more diverse and inspiring way to educate myself than by uniting with my international peers at the Youth Assembly, promoting the aims of the United Nations. In the words of Nelson Mandela, "young people must take it upon themselves to ensure that they receive the highest education possible so that they can represent us well in the future as leaders."

Aria Mia Loberti hails from Rhode Island, USA. As a legally blind individual, she is an activist for blind and visually impaired students, advocating on the state and local political levels prior to taking her cause to the Youth Assembly at the United Nations. Loberti is one of the five Outstanding Youth Delegates at the 2016 Winter Youth Assembly at the United Nations.

This post is a part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Friendship Ambassadors Foundation following the 2016 Youth Assembly at the United Nations held on February 17-18, 2016. The winter session tackled the role of youth in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To see all posts in the series, click here.