11-year-old Pallabi was born with a disability. She is a member of the children’s club started by World Vision in her village. "There I feel loved and accepted. There is no big no small, we treat everyone equally. I am happy that there are more people around me supporting for the rights of disabled people," she says. Photo by Annila Harris, World Vision
What future do you want?
What amazing inventions can you imagine in the future? Flying Cars? Superman’s power of flight? Bionic arms? Superhuman strength? Glasses that allow you to see through walls and other barriers ? Me too!
But people with these abilities exist, and live amongst us already. Through World Vision’s work, I’ve met people with the power to see invisible barriers. People who see the invisible, debilitating force that a set of stairs can have to a child in a wheelchair, or feel the radiating fear of a signpost for someone with a visual impairment. I have even heard stories of people who have amazing abilities, like World Vision staff in refugee camps in Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey who can identify invisible conditions like psychological trauma and other mental health conditions and act accordingly.
Perhaps most incredibly, I’ve also met many people who have more impressive abilities: the ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges; the ability to see invisible barriers, and break through them; people who can speak without sound; and even people with incredible physical attributes.
So today, on International day of Persons with Disabilities, what would I say if you asked me what sort of future I want? Well, I want a future where the one billion people with disabilities are celebrated, not hidden. I want a future where people with visible disabilities don’t feel uncomfortable stares, and where people with invisible disabilities feel comfortable talking about their challenges without misunderstanding or judgement. I want a future where the 95 percent of children with disabilities who currently do not finish school are attending school and thriving. I want a future where we use all our abilities for good.
To make this future a reality, World Vision thinks about disability inclusion in every element of our work around the world. An overwhelming 80% of people with disabilities globally live in poverty. Often, having a disability in these countries can make you vulnerable; a target, misunderstood, and easily forgotten. World Vision is using our work to transform this unacceptable reality into a better future for people with disabilities.
As we work towards the Sustainable Development Goals, we make sure our efforts are inclusive of people with disabilities, and work to break down the attitudinal, physical, and institutional barriers that they face on a daily basis.
World Vision’s approach to disability starts in early childhood. This has involved developing guidelines to help parents identify disabilities early, and give them simple steps to stimulate quality early childhood development. In Kenya World Vision is working with partners through the a USAID funded ACCESS project to ensure that children with physical disabilities are provided with an appropriate wheelchair to ensure they get to school, and that when they get there the classroom is accessible.
We also use community abilities to increase access to simple things, like toilets and clean water. In Papua New Guinea, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka World Vision is working with the government, community, partners and local disabled person’s organisations to build toilets and water points that are accessible in schools and communities to ensure equitable and sustainable access to safe water. This means children with disabilities will be able to access the toilet when they get to school, which is a huge barrier that’s often not considered.
Our work also creates opportunities for people with disabilities – and their carers – to work and be active citizens in their community. In Sri Lanka World Vision is working with women’s savings groups to ensure parents and carers are equipped with financial skills and education to save so that they can afford healthcare. Economic empowerment activities are also taking place in Romania and Kenya, where people with disabilities are being trained in agricultural practices such as land management and bee keeping to support themselves and the community into the future that they want.
World Vision works to strengthen national health systems to ensure that staff at clinics, hospitals and government services are trained to provide support, care and advice for children like Samuel and their families. In Uganda and Malawi World Vision is working with partners like Motivation, who are experts in wheelchair provision, to ensure that local health systems are trained in World Health Organisation standards. This ensures there is, quality wheelchair provision available in the most rural and remote communities, for kids just like Samuel.
Communities are gathering their powers too. They are doing this by challenging invisible forces like negative attitudes, stigma and myths that exist that can prohibit people with disabilities from participating in community life. In India, World Vision is working with community advocacy groups across the country to educate communities about the rights of people with disabilities, and the positive impacts of including people with disabilities in the community.
But what about people with disabilities? What are their views on all of this? Is this the future they want too? Across all of World Vision’s work, the most important element is helping people with disabilities engage throughout our programs to ensure they are creating, shaping and included in what we do. There are hundreds of examples to choose from, but in Malawi and India this year, World Vision facilitated the National conference for children with disabilities to listen and understand the future that children with disabilities dream of.
And that’s just the start. In natural disasters, earthquakes, tsunamis, and war zones we must train and practice this work even more. To ensure people with disabilities are prepared, and know the quickest way to safety, we must work together to harness incredible strength and multiple abilities. For example, in Syria at the moment World vision is creating safe spaces for women and children with disabilities where they can receive support, and after the Tsunami in the Solomon Islands in 2013, World Vision arranged home deliveries of food and hygiene kits to people with disabilities where terrain prevented them from accessing basic services.
Like most, I want is a future that is fair, equal and just. A world without extreme poverty. I see a future where every child can access a quality education and pave their own future. Where discrimination and invisible barriers do not exist, and we celebrate the power of seeing without sight, and speaking without sound. I also see flying cars, teleportation, instant food delivery, and other amazing technological advances… but that’s for a different blog.
Working at World Vision, I know today – more than ever – that we are all creating this future together. Can we do it? Yes we can.