This Saturday, December 3, is International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Hear from our international development expert about how poverty and disability go hand in hand, and how World Vision is working to empower and include those with disabilities in our work.
I began working in international development more than 10 years ago, driven by the deeply held belief that all people deserve the best that the world has to offer. I knew that the people in the United States were not the only ones who deserved clean water, safe homes, full bellies, and endless opportunities. I entered this profession knowing that I was called to use my talents to serve the most vulnerable. But I didn’t realize then that even in my quest to reach them, I was missing the most marginalized.
What I didn’t know was that there is a community that is often left out, even by the most well-intentioned development workers. The ones that development organizations struggle to find or adequately serve. It is the community made up of people with disabilities.
According to the World Health Organization, over 1 billion people around the world have some form of disability. And poverty and disability go hand in hand, with 80% of people with disabilities living in developing countries. In those countries, only 1 in 10 children with disabilities attends school, and around the world only 3% of adults with disabilities are literate. While many disabled people’s organizations have been working for years to address these issues, most mainstream international development organizations fail to meet the needs of this vulnerable group.
In 2015, the United Nations took note of these startling statistics and made strides to specifically include people with disabilities within the Sustainable Development Goals. People with disabilities are referenced 11 times throughout the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and five of the 17 sustainable development goals specifically address the needs of people with disabilities in sectors such as education, economic growth, employment, governance, and infrastructure. If implemented successfully, by 2030 we may experience a more open, inclusive, and equitable world for people with disabilities.
What’s so influential about this is not the acknowledgement that people with disabilities should be included in development. It is that in acknowledging this, the UN has agreed that it is the mandate of the development community, of governments and organizations in all spheres, to ensure that meeting the needs of people with disabilities is prioritized. That’s the spark for change.
For disability inclusion to become a reality, each of us must play a role, and I am proud to say that World Vision is taking steps to do our part. Currently World Vision operates disability-specific programming as well as disability-inclusive programming around the world, seeking to fulfill the mandate of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In accordance with SDG #4, which guarantees equal and accessible education, we work with parents, teachers, and community members to ensure that children with disabilities have equitable access to educational services and activities, including school clubs and programs. We work with schools to construct accessible classrooms and facilities. All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (a partnership of USAID, World Vision, and the Australian Government) sources, tests, and disseminates technology-based solutions to improve literacy skills of early grade learning in developing countries. It has included several of the first adaptations in the world of the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) for children who are blind/low vision or deaf/hard of hearing. These adaptations have the potential to change the way education is provided to children with these disabilities.
In line with SDG #8, which promotes inclusive economic growth and productive employment, World Vision seeks to include people with disabilities in economic development projects. In Kenya, people with disabilities are integrated into an agriculture project that has trained 145 people with disabilities in the first year.
In India, goats donated through the World Vision Gift Catalog have been provided to 274 wheelchair users over the last year. The families were then trained on goat rearing and financial management to increase household income.
The USAID-funded TEAM project in Colombia provides people with disabilities with a range of services including economic strengthening by providing seed capital, training, and basic support. People with disabilities, caregivers, and their families are grouped into Productive Units and trained in basic accounting and management. Out of the 83 production units, 64 have experienced an increase in profits within the past three months. That includes 384 beneficiaries with increased income.
SDG #10 seeks to emphasize the social, economic, and political inclusion of people with disabilities. The USAID-funded ACCESS project for wheelchair provision and social inclusion ensures that people with mobility limitations not only receive appropriate wheelchairs but also enjoy full participation in their communities. This innovative project in India, Kenya, Nicaragua, Romania, and El Salvador has provided wheelchair services to more than 4,600 people so far.
World Vision uses social accountability tools to support people with disabilities and their families to hold governments accountable for the services guaranteed by laws and policies. Preliminary results of this work include infrastructure improvements in public places, teacher training on disability inclusion, and increased medical support for people with disabilities. In addition, the project works with faith leaders and children to raise awareness of disability rights. Each of these efforts supports social inclusion and is made sustainable by community leadership.
SDG #11 supports accessible infrastructure including public spaces, water resources, and transport systems. World Vision already ensures that universal access is stipulated for all reconstruction and infrastructure work. World Vision now designs water points to be accessible and develops programming around disability inclusion in water, sanitation, and hygiene projects.
In Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Niger, Uganda, and Zambia, awareness efforts have included faith leader training, empowerment of people with disabilities, and sporting events featuring people with disabilities. These efforts make clear that not only should infrastructure be physically accessible, but barriers to access should also be broken down to ensure that we can meet the needs of people with disabilities.
Recognizing the need to collect robust data on development work, SDG #17 emphasizes the importance of disability data. In India, World Vision has developed unique survey tools for mapping people with disabilities and their needs and has used this information to support people with disabilities to gain government disability certification, pension, and transportation cards. By simply mapping the needs through robust data collection, disability advisors have encouraged organizational leadership to include disability as a key point in their strategy and focus for the organization.
In these large and small ways, World Vision seeks to meet the development goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind. As we celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, I understand that these efforts are both monumental and at the same time not enough.
Through the ACCESS project, I have the great privilege to serve wheelchair users and their families. I’ve seen how getting an appropriate wheelchair can open new doors for a child. When communities come together to support that child to go to school, the opportunities are endless. While I know that wheelchair provision can lead to social inclusion, I also know that we can do more to break down the barriers that people with disabilities face in their communities and around the world.
This year—the 10th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and the first year of SDG implementation—I hope that you will join me in taking action with and for people with disabilities. Check out the World Vision Gift Catalog where you can donate to support children with disabilities or pay to ship and deliver a wheelchair. Visit World Vision’s website to learn about sponsoring a child—our sponsorship model benefits all children in a community, including those with disabilities. Or pay to have a school or other infrastructure upgraded to be accessible.
At a time when the world has the tremendous opportunity to build safe and welcoming communities for people with disabilities, don’t you want to be a part of the solution? I sure do, and I am so very proud that World Vision does, too!
Chandra Whetstine is the Project Director of World Vision's ACCESS program.
Projects mentioned above are made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The blog contents are the responsibility of World Vision, Inc. and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.