It’s easy to assume that the rights and benefits available to disabled citizens in the United States might be the norm, but in some areas of the world, a disability is a life sentence–a “crime” punishable by the loss of basic rights like education, employment or community participation. In many countries, a disabled family member is considered a burden or a shame, or the community lacks any resources for those with disabilities to lead productive lives. But many countries are working to end stereotypes and provide accessibility and opportunity to all of their citizens. Here are a few countries that, with the help of volunteers, advocates, and non-profit organizations, are taking action to ensure that all their citizens have equal rights.
India has made leaps and bounds in recent years with the introduction of Sarve Shiksha Abhiyan, or Education for All. The government implemented the Right to Education Act in 2010, which makes discrimination in the schools illegal.
Despite the laws in place and the country’s goal of providing education for all children, there are still shortcomings that need to be addressed. For example, Braille libraries and audio books are scarce. Also, a lack of teachers trained to instruct children with disabilities means that many in rural areas are still not properly served.
New initiatives have been started to raise awareness of disability rights in this west African nation. Cameroon has many more centers and rehabilitation services available for those with various disabilities than it did just ten years ago. In 2010, Cameroon passed a law that addresses protection for people with disabilities.
However, only 2% of children with disabilities receive a formal education in Cameroon. The classrooms are not accessible, and there is a lack of trained educators to accommodate students with disabilities. Finding healthcare for disability related health problems is challenging as well.
The government of Togo has been making considerable progress in their laws regarding equal rights. The Ministry for Social Action has a department to represent people of the country that have disabilities. In 2004, a law was passed that gave social protection to disabled people. Last March, Togo ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Social efforts have been made by non-government groups to raise awareness, and these efforts have been well received, providing a more open-minded community environment.
While the laws in place are a great start, improvement is still needed to change attitudes toward the disabled in Togo. An agricultural community where many work in the fields, it retains a social stigma toward those with disabilities.
Organizations like Handicap International and the Burundi Disabled People’s Organisations Network have been working diligently to raise awareness and change people’s perception of disabilities in this tiny African nation, one of the poorest in the world. Less than a generation ago, children with disabilities (referred to as ibimuga, or “broken pots”) were hidden by their families, so that the community would not consider their families cursed. But in 2010, the government began funding rehabilitation centers and income-generating projects for disabled citizens.
Burundi still has no laws or policies to ensure the rights or well-being of those with disabilities. While private organizations are working to assist Burundians, little is being done beyond their efforts. A telling example of this: the office in the government department that assists the disabled is located on the 3rd floor of a building with no elevator.
Although many organizations and governments look for financial assistance to improve the lives of people living with disabilities worldwide, there are also other ways to help these countries. Nations that provide financial aid to these governments can press them to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and can include the needs of the disabled in their diplomatic negotiations as well.