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Fighting poverty requires inclusion

A number of institutions, including the World Bank, have highlighted the fact that measures to reduce poverty rarely or never reach persons with disabilities. It is therefore vital to shine a light on the clear links between poverty and disability.

According to WHO, 15 percent of the world’s population live with a disability and 80 percent of these people live in developing countries. Among poor people, the World Bank estimates that the proportion of people with a disability amounts to 20 percent. At the same time, 80 perscent of the persons with disabilities are poor.

Discrimination and lack of access mean that disability often leads to poverty, and poverty often leads to disability. Calculations suggest that as many as 50 percent of existing disabilities in the poorest parts of the world could have been avoided if circumstances had been more favourable.

Exclusion perpetuates poverty

As things stand today, several hundred million people with disabilities are being denied their right to education and work, their right to take part in democratic processes and the right to be seen and respected as people and citizens. Many people end up in a position of dependency that brings increased exposure to abuse, discrimination and human rights violations.

To reduce this vulnerability, aid and other change-focused work has to be adapted to the needs of persons with disabilities, so they are included and kept visible. It is thus important that the UN’s new development goals, under what has been termed the Post-2015 Development Agenda, have a disability perspective and focus on different groups, including people with disabilities, through disaggregated data.

The UN Convention

The UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006. The Convention was opened for signature in March 2007 and entered into force in May 2008, by which time 20 nations had ratified it.

Now over 150 nations have ratified the Convention. The new Convention does not establish any new rights; instead it focuses on preventing the obstacles for persons with disabilities to enjoy their human rights. It has had a major impact on the global disability rights movement and taken the work of MyRight in a positive direction.

Development equality

It is also important to promote development equality, such that everyone’s needs are taken into account and everyone’s resources are put to meaningful use. It is therefore essential to analyse how the current situation affects men and women differently, how it is perceived by men and women, and what measures are required to meet the needs of both men and women.

Focusing on the perspective of women often leads to women becoming more active in the organisations. This in turn can give women with disabilities the courage also to take part and engage in other parts of society. At the same time, development equality may be about the opposite, for example arranging activities that engage more fathers and encourage them to accept and care about their children with disabilities.

What needs to change

In all initiatives and projects aimed at creating positive social change and reducing poverty and exclusion, it is important to involve persons with disabilities from as early as the planning stage. They are the people who know and can explain what needs to change to create an inclusive society.

A key factor generally in achieving positive change is to increase society’s knowledge of different disabilities and the specific needs they entail. Improving knowledge is the key to enabling attitude changes towards people with disabilities. Schools, health services and public agencies also need knowledge in order to correctly identify and diagnose persons with disabilities, and to be able to establish services that include all members of society.

To be able to evaluate and measure the results of the changes that are implemented, there is also a need for more information and statistics about persons with disabilities and their situation in life.

More examples of the changes needed to create a more inclusive society:

  • We need a united disability rights movement that can drive the dialogue with decision-makers, express needs and put forward proposals and requirements.
  • The physical environment in official buildings, schools, churches, hospitals and other public spaces needs to be made more accessible.
  • Social information and educational material have to be adapted to persons with special needs, such as persons with impaired vision (information in Braille), persons with an intellectual disability (information in simple language) and deaf people (access to sign language interpreters).
  • Information and support is needed for parents who have children with a disabilities, so they understand how best to support and help their children.
  • Staff in schools and the health service need knowledge about what it means to live with disabilities and support in how to adapt their work to different needs.
  • There is a need for organisations that can offer recreational activities to enable people with a disability to grow and develop as individuals and members of society.