THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector



Back to Index

Disability: A global picture
Aribino Nicholas
December 03, 2012

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) may not be fully achieved by 2015 because of their inability to be inclusive in their scope. All the goals are silent on the issue of disability; a thing that is not in-keeping with the development of people with disabilities. The term 'people with disabilities- means people with mental retardation, hearing impairments including deafness, speech or language impairments, visual impairments, including blindness, serious emotional disturbance, orthopaedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health related impairments, or specific learning disabilities and who, by reason thereof, need special education and related services. Despite this description of people with disabilities, it has to be noted that people with disabilities are not a homogeneous, but a heterogeneous group with diverse, if not unique needs that have to be considered in terms of policy formulation and its implementation. The purpose of this article is to broach the concept of disability at a global level.

According to the World Report on Disability (2011) more than one billion people worldwide, including 100 million children are living with physical or mental disability. Surprisingly, disability is not mentioned in any of the 8 MDGs or the 21 targets or the 60% indicators for achieving the goals. In most countries in the world people with disabilities are largely invisible in development statistics and absent from aid budgets. This invisibility is not good in terms of fashioning the economic, physical and social environments to cheer up to people with disabilities. Statistics are usually inseparable from research findings; the dearth of statistics concerning people with disabilities in any development projects is a sure sign of lack of concern by the powers that be about the needs of people with disabilities. According to the World Disability Report (2011) disability has been largely absent from the international agenda. Where disability has been talked about, the emphasis has been on the medical perspective which puts a premium on curing and caring for people with disabilities. There is need to de-emphasise this approach because disability is less about health conditions but more about social and economic barriers to inclusion. It-s about denied opportunities. People with disabilities need education, access to vehicular transport, information, housing units and employment, among others. These needs may not be realized without relevant laws and policies that speak to such needs.

Some countries like Italy, Britain, Uganda and the USA are trying very hard to include people with disabilities in their development projects, but they are not yet there. For example, Italy is said to be a world leader in terms of inclusive education and de-institutionalization of people with mental problems but in other areas it is not. In Africa, Uganda has enshrined disability in its constitution and people with disabilities participate at every level of the political process. Despite some of these heart-warming findings about disability it is somehow disturbing to learn that children with disabilities are less likely to start or stay in school than other children (World Report on disability, 2011). A baseline survey of people with disabilities that was conducted by Plan Zimbabwe in Kwekwe and Tsholotsho in 2010 seems to be in consonant with the above findings as it established, among other things that 28% of children with disabilities were not in school. Some of the reasons floated for their absence from school bordered on the inaccessibility of schools and negative attitudes by their duty bearers. In terms of employment opportunities for people with disabilities the World Report on Disability (2011) claims that employment rates are at 44% compared with 75% of people with disabilities in developed in countries. It therefore, means that with developing countries the picture may be gloomy where employment opportunities for people with disabilities are concerned.

It may be safely argued that people with disabilities experience barriers to effective participation in their communities. These barriers may include stigma, lack of adequate health care, habilitation, rehabilitation services and inaccessible transport, buildings and communication technologies. These hurdles further aggravate their situations as they miss out on opportunities for schooling. They may need to acquire education but the educational environment may not be user-friendly to them, (especially to wheel chair users, those with cerebral palsy, those who are deaf, those who are deaf-blind and those who are blind). The school personnel may not be conversant with the management of these children-s special needs (e.g, Braille and sign language). Once children with disabilities lose out on education, they are bound to live dependent lives because most opportunities in life are distributed through education.

According to Margaret Chan (WHO director), "Disability is part of the human condition. Almost every one of us will be permanently or temporarily disabled at some point in life." This observation is correct and should be used to heighten public awareness and understanding about disability. (Seka urema wafa). Governments should, according to the World Disability Report (2011) create opportunities for preventing disabilities through vaccination programmes, public health programmes that promote road safety, removing old land mines from conflict zones, prompt treatment of such conditions as leprosy and tuberculosis. People with disabilities constitute the world's largest minority group and therefore deserve to live independent and productive lives. People with disabilities can only lead independent and productive lives if conditions are created that can enable them to have access to all mainstream systems and services. Governments are under obligation to invest in programmes and services for people with disabilities and have to go a stage further to adopt disability strategies and plans of actions that involve people with disabilities. Everything said and done, nations have to strengthen and support research on disability.

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.