The performing arts and empowerment of youth with disabilities


  • Melvin Delgado Boston University School of Social
  • Denise Humm-Delgado Simmons School of Social Work, Boston, Massachusetts,



Empowerment, Youth, Disabilities, Performing Arts


The field of youth practice has made tremendous strides in expanding its scope and reaching previously underserved youth groups in seeking to achieve its transformative mission, with empowerment playing a critical role in its universal appeal. However, the field has not achieved its potential for empowerment and transformation in reaching youth with both visible and invisible disabilities. This failure has increasingly been recognized and notable efforts to rectify this situation can be found in the field, although not without encountering significant conceptual and research challenges.
In the United States and internationally, inclusion is generally a goal for advocates and self-advocates for people with disabilities, including for youth with disabilities. It is a basic prerequisite for empowerment, another advocacy goal for youth with disabilities. With the access to the benefits of society, choices, and relationships inclusion brings, people have fewer barriers to empowering themselves. For youth with disabilities, the performing arts, defined here as acting, music, or dance performed before an audience, can be an avenue for both inclusion and empowerment.
The construct of intersectionality is critical, too, to consider regarding the inclusion of youth with disabilities in the performing arts. This manuscript explores how empowerment can be applied to youth with disabilities, including those who are marginalized because of their race/ethnicity, gender, sexual identity or gender expression, or socio-economic class as well as their disabilities. The performing arts is used to illustrate one way participation, inclusion, and empowerment can be achieved with youth with disabilities.


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