What is it?A disability can be physical (such as paralysis, loss of limb, deafness), mental (such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder) or intellectual (such as a learning disability). Some people are born disabled; others become disabled as a result of an accident or disease. Disabilities range from moderate to significant and can be temporary or permanent. With the help of a supportive community, education and vocational opportunities, disabled persons can make progress.
Here are some statistics:
- 650 million people in the world are disabled, according to the World Health Organization.
- 80% of disabled people live in developing countries.
- 20% of the world’s poorest people are disabled, and tend to be regarded in their own communities as the most disadvantaged.
- 1 in every 10 children around the world copes with a disability.
- Only 2-3% of disabled children in poor countries go to school.
Why should I care?Disability leads to poverty
When persons with a disability are kept from attending school or finding work, they tend to be the poorest among the poor because they don't acquire any skills.
Many people in developing countries think that children with disabilities can't learn or develop skills, so not much is expected from them. In turn, they don't contribute to their communities but are considered to be a burden.
But poverty contributes to disability
Poor people are at greater risk of becoming disabled. They also have fewer chances to overcome their disabilities. This increases the odds that they and their families will remain poor.
Children can be born disabled …
Some children are born disabled because their mothers didn't receive prenatal care or had a hard time giving birth. Or they are born disabled for no clear reason.
Or become disabled …
Children can become disabled during childhood if they are malnourished, exposed to preventable childhood diseases such as polio, or have an accident.
Countries coming out of war have many physically disabled people who were injured during conflict. If these people, especially men, suddenly find themselves unable to work and provide for their families, they may become poorer.
People living in areas prone to conflict or natural hazards (such as hurricanes and droughts) disproportionally suffer from post-traumatic-stress disorder, depression and anxiety.
What is the international community doing?Demystifying disability in developing countries
Dealing with disability is much more than a health issue. The idea of who is disabled comes from people's cultures. For example, if a deaf child is taught to read lips and lives with people who speak in sign language, the child is not necessarily disabled and can contribute to society.
Incorporating people with disability into society
People with disabilities should be helped to become productive members of society because this will improve the welfare and well being of the entire community. Sometimes solutions are relatively simple, such as providing reading glasses to children, giving wheelchairs to those in need or constructing wheelchair accessible buildings.
In addition to helping people with disabilities, international organizations like UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank work on:
- Improving health care in poor countries to help pregnant women and children get proper medical care.
- Enabling disabled children to go to school and learn livelihood skills.
- Removing landmines from fields to make sure people don't step on them.
How to Help Handicapped Children
In the United States, laws exist to protect the handicapped, or those with disabilities, from discrimination and to ensure they have access to facilities, transportation, education, technology and medical care. The laws make a tremendous difference in the lives of the disabled, but there is still a lot you can do to help, especially with children. Children are not too concerned with rights; they just want to fit in with their peers and enjoy life like everyone else.
Learn about disabilities and the limitations they cause for children. While it might not be appropriate to ask a child or his parent about his specific disability, it is equally inappropriate to make assumptions. If you have a little information, perform some basic research to help you understand what life is like for handicapped children and their families.
Control your feelings. It is normal to feel sad for children with disabilities, but it might embarrass the child if you display pity or engage in fawning attention. It is okay to let children know that you understand their challenges. Let them know that you respect and admire their abilities.
Talk to the child about his interests. Get to know more about him than his disability. Ask what kind of books he reads, what he likes on television and his favorite sports or foods. This information will help you treat him like a normal kid whenever possible.
Ask children and their families how you can help. Talk to parents about the needs of their child, her personality and coping skills. Ask the child how you can help. She might surprise you by requesting something as simple as leaving the classroom door open so she can get in without help each morning.
Perform actions that enable and encourage the child's independence. Remove barriers to his independence. Provide technology to help with tasks, organize rooms and materials to help the child maneuver as much as possible by himself, remove obstructions to wheelchair movement and encourage a disabled child to do things for himself, even when he objects.
Help handicapped children make friends and participate in social activities. Provide transportation or accompany the child to after-school activities, community events and social activities such as going to the movies with friends or attending a birthday party.
Offer to take child for a day, overnight or a weekend to give the parents a break. This will make a child's life better by relieving parental stress. Sometimes, even children need a break from their caretakers and to spend time in a different environment.
Teach your children to respect all people. Encourage them to see people first, before disabilities. Encourage them to refuse to join in when peers make fun of someone with disabilities. Ask them to remember to invite disabled children to social events or to join in at lunch. Remind them that children with disabilities are not really different from other children.