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Asia Pacific Youth Leaders With and Without Intellectual Disabilities Convened in Singapore to Advance Inclusion and Education

With support from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the three-day meeting brought together over 100 participants including youth leaders, advocates and business leaders from around the world.
A large group of people in multiple rows, kneeling, squatting, and standing for a group photo.
Youth leaders with and without intellectual disabilities from 14 Asian Pacific countries gathered in Singapore earlier in June for the “Youth for Inclusion: Expanding Unified Champion Schools” summit

Over 40 youth leaders with and without intellectual disabilities from 14 Asian Pacific countries gathered in Singapore earlier in June for the “Youth for Inclusion: Expanding Unified Champion Schools” summit.

These youth leaders, made up of pairs of people with and without intellectual disabilities aged between 17 and 24 years old, have been invited from countries across the Asia Pacific region. These include India, Pakistan, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Maldives, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Bhutan.

Organised by Special Olympics Asia Pacific, with support from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, the event served as a platform for youth leaders, their mentors, advocates, as well as leaders in the private sector, to brainstorm and co-design strategies and pathways that level the playing field for people with intellectual disabilities (PWIDs) through inclusive education, community engagement and advocacy.

In total, the three-day event saw over 100 participants involved, including speakers and guests from the UAE Embassy, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Visa, Medtronic, Bank of America and Hasbro.

There are as many as 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world which remains one of the most underserved and stigmatized populations. This is why opportunities to level the playing field, particularly in enhancing inclusive education, are especially critical.

Given this, unified schools—schools committed to building inclusive school communities for young people of all abilities—have been the foundation upon much of Special Olympics’ work focused in the Asia Pacific region.

Globally, Special Olympics has engaged nearly 200,000 youth in 14 countries and territories through Unified Schools by providing opportunities for young people with and without intellectual disabilities (ID) to participate in a wide range of sporting activities and events.

“I am delighted that we have put together this summit with the goal to look at expanding Unified Champion Schools (UCS), a model that brings together students with and without intellectual disabilities to create conducive, holistic school environments through sports and youth leadership activities that really focus on whole school engagement."
Dipak Natali, President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Asia Pacific,

“Drawing from the experiences of the Regional Hubs for Asia Pacific, Special Olympics Pakistan and Special Olympics Bharat (India), who have demonstrated innovation and creativity in advancing UCS work in our region, I hope the event served as an inspiring and collaborative platform to collectively work towards the ultimate goal of empowering youth of all abilities, by providing them with the skills needed to thrive and work towards a more inclusive future.”

UNDP shares Special Olympics’s commitment to creating safe and inclusive spaces for young people from all backgrounds to lead innovative solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals. Dinh-Long Pham, UNDP, Youth Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Coordinator, said, “UNDP has been collaborating with Special Olympics to empower youth from under-represented groups, especially youth with intellectual disabilities, to lead a decade of change.”

His hopes for the next generation of youth leaders? “Start small but dream big. No matter where you come from, you can take action for the UN Sustainable Development Goals and advocate on behalf of your community.”

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