Chapter 2    Mixed ability groups and participation



On this page you can find a complete manual on activities for multi-capacity groups. In addition, you can download the complete manual as well as the chapters with the activities in PDF format. Each activity has several adaptations.

Table of contents

Chapter 2    Mixed ability groups and participation


2.1 Concept of mixed-ability groups

Young people with disabilities do not always have an opportunity to take part in youth activities together with their peers without disabilities due to inaccessibility and/or psycho-social barriers. Therefore, a relatively smaller group of active youngsters with disabilities tend to be organised in disability networks or youth branches of DPOs (disabled people’s organisations) where there is always a considerable risk of being part of a closed, disability-based community. On the other hand, some of the youth organisations are running local, national or international “disability themed projects” where young people with disabilities are excluded from interacting with their peers without disabilities. While most of the youth organisations still avoid or hesitate involving young people with disabilities, the ones involving “only” young people with disabilities in their projects are also failing to ensure the inclusiveness of the international learning mobility activities.

SALTO-YOUTH Inclusion defines a mixed-ability group as one that provides “positive experiences of working, playing and simply being together, when breaking down barriers and taking on challenges”. An inclusive mixed-ability group reflects diversity in society. It means creating and maintaining a space where everyone’s needs are met so that all young people, not just those with disabilities, can take part. It is about making sure that all participants have a sense of belonging to the group and that they feel included in the process, respected and valued. This can be achieved by seeing the person as a whole and by embracing diversity, rather than pigeonholing people into “us” and “them”. Another key factor is to ensure that all individuals treat each other with fairness, tolerance and respect. However respect is not enough, action is needed as well.

A mixed-ability approach recognises that all young people have different abilities and may need support so they can be fully involved. A key aspect of inclusiveness is that not everybody has to do the same thing to contribute, it is also fine to do things in different ways to achieve the desired outcomes. Inclusion happens when we are aware of each other’s needs and adapt to the situations we are in. Inclusion is mostly about attitude and willingness rather than expertise on methodology because there is no such thing as a “one solution” for inclusion.

Building an inclusive mixed-ability group requires comprehensive planning and a good deal of preparation. You simply can not call your activity inclusive if you just invite young people with disabilities to join an existing group of young people without disabilities without acknowledging the individual needs of all participants, not only of the ones with disabilities but all. In the following sections of this toolkit we will be providing you with some guidelines to create and manage an inclusive mixed-ability group.

Food for thought: Do you think it is possible to create a fully inclusive mixed-ability group?



2.2 Barriers to participation of young people with disabilities


“And what about young people with disabilities? They are here, somewhere pending between the two movements: the youth and the disability. Searching their place, because none of them are yet inclusive enough. The youth one limits them often with the age limit, because by the time young people with disabilities reach out there, it is time to pass to something else, too old, always asking for derogations to participate and that is embarrassing, annoying and time consuming. And the disability movement? Finds young people too young, not experienced enough, etc.”

-Loredana Dicsi – Membership, Internal Communication and Youth Officer, European Disability Forum

Young people with disabilities can experience a range of barriers to inclusion and can be excluded from important community activities, resources and services that promote decision making, citizenship, leadership and influence. All youth organisations need to consciously and systematically ensure their inclusion strategies the direct provision of services and activities are appropriate for youth with disabilities.

Some of the barriers to participation of young people with disabilities in youth projects:

  • Lack of information about opportunities
  • Low self-esteem, and confidence in their own skills and abilities
  • Lack of family and community support (discouraging approaches)
  • Having supportive but overprotective families
  • Lack of information about programme accessibility, or fear of inaccessibility
  • Limited English language skills
  • Lack of voice and visibility
  • Lack of social skills and knowledge of one’s rights to participate
  • Lack of facilities, access, skills and knowledge related to working with young people with disabilities
  • Reluctance to work with or for young people with disabilities, since it is considered “challenging”
  • Fear of the extra efforts and costs; misconception that organizing mixed-ability projects are way too expensive
  • Lack of projects by and with young people with disabilities – most projects are done for them
  • Assumptions based on no evidence about the actual potential and capacity of young people with disabilities
  • Differing visibility of disabilities (“minority within a minority”) – for example, the needs of young people with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities and deaf-blind or hard-of-hearing participants are more easily overlooked.

Food for thought: What kind of assumptions do I / does my organization have regarding disability? Which habits can I/my organisation easily change?



2.3 Ways to better reach out and involve young people with disabilities



In order to organise mixed ability group youth projects it is initially needed to reach out to the target group. Due to the barriers identified in the previous section, this could be the most tricky and challenging part. Because literally no participants with disabilities, no mixed ability groups. Reaching out to the young people with disabilities means using appropriate communication strategies directly addressing them. But making contact with the youngsters is not enough; we need to inform and engage their families as well. In that sense organising an accessible info session could be helpful. Former participants with and without disabilities with positive experiences of inclusive youth activities could be invited to share good practices. Inviting family members of both groups could be helpful to share their concerns or fears regarding their children interacting with each other.

On the other hand, communication materials should address all young people you want to reach. Mentioning in your call for participants that you are openly inviting applications from young people with disabilities can make a big difference, as it opens people’s minds to the fact that these opportunities are theirs to pursue, and their participation is welcome. However do this only if you are ready to adapt the activity according to the needs of these potential participants with disabilities. Do not welcome anyone for the sake of welcoming, be prepared!

Adding clear information on the physical accessibility of the activity venue, the availability of sign language interpreters, information on personal assistants, readable materials, accessible transfer, content and daily programme, details on the application/selection process and deadlines etc. could be very helpful and encouraging to apply. In addition to using mainstream online and offline channels, it’s worth reaching out to places where young people with disabilities study (universities, high schools, life long learning centers..etc.), socialise (community centers, youth centers) and work, self-advocacy groups and disability community organisations etc. Cooperate with relevant partners such as DPOs who already have a relationship with these young people.

It is not always an easy task to fill in an application form and not everybody is good at expressing themselves in written format. Therefore it’s better to adjust the application process, be flexible with deadlines, simplify the questions, avoid long forms, leave spaces for extra comments, actually not only people with disabilities but also everybody could benefit from. Alternative means of application could also be helpful for some people who may have difficulties in explaining things on paper but better express themselves face to face or on a video call (e.g. Deaf youngsters).

It’s also important to formulate the questions accordingly to get adequate information on the disability situation and related needs of the person. That is to say, it is recommended to avoid asking “Do you have any special needs?” but instead you can ask;

“Do you consider yourself to have a disability/difficulty that the organisers should be aware of in order to accommodate the activity for your needs?”

“Will you be accompanied by a personal assistant?”

“Do you require an adapted room?” 

“Do you need adapted transport?”

“Do you use a mobility aid such as a wheelchair, walker or cane?”

“Do you need a palantypist or sign language interpretation?”

“Do you use assistive technologies?”

“Do you need alternative materials in a certain format?”

“Do you have any dietary needs?”

Food for thought: What other possible ways do you think would be useful to reach young people with disabilities?