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Today we are celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This day, which happens every year on the 3 December, is an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of including people with disabilities in all areas of society. Each year the United Nations sets a theme, this year it is Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities.
We talk about access a lot, and it is hugely important. People with disabilities need to be able to access all the same services and opportunities as people without – they need to be able to go to school, access health care and earn an income. They may also need access to specific services – such as rehabilitation or assistive devices, such as wheelchairs.
What is meant by empowerment is less obvious. But it is equally, if not more, important. Empowerment is about people being able to have a voice and take control of their own lives and futures. All people, whether they have a disability or not, need to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives.
People with disabilities know best what barriers they face, and they are able to identify what they need to overcome them. If people with disabilities aren’t involved in the development of programmes and policies then the likelihood is that they will continue to be excluded from them. People with disabilities need to be able to participate in decision making at all levels – from community to global decision making, so that they are not passive recipients of aid, but included in their own development.
I recently got back from the Philippines, where I spent some time with members of local Disabled People’s Organisations who were receiving support from CBM and partners. Here I saw how important empowerment is to unlock the potential of people with disabilities and to deliver real change.
Being part of a Disabled Person’s Organisation had transformed many of their lives. Before being involved in these groups, some of them were isolated in their communities, but now they have an increased awareness of their rights and the opportunities available to them and have become key members of their communities.
One group has been counting the number of people with disabilities in their district, with this information they can go to their government and demand that they meet their needs. Someone else told us about how after one of their group was killed by a police officer, they came together and made sure that the police officer was arrested and charged. Others were making sure that schools in their area had the right policies in place – so that children with disabilities were able to receive an education.
By having a voice and being able to take control of their own lives – they have not only been able to change their own lives – but also the lives of others.
In less than a month, the Sustainable Development Goals, which were agreed by world leaders in September, will come into action. They commit countries to eradicating poverty, fighting inequality and reducing the impact of climate change by 2030. Crucially for CBM, and for the one billion people with disabilities globally, this new agenda pledges to ‘Leave no one behind.’
As part of their training in the Philippines, participants learnt about the Sustainable Development Goals and linked them to issues that affect their everyday lives. They now have the information they need to go their government as say ‘you signed up to this, so this is the action you need to take.’
The Sustainable Development Goals are a once in a generation opportunity to create an equal and inclusive society where people with disabilities have the same access to opportunities as those without. If people with disabilities are able to raise their voice and demand their rights – the impact could be truly transformative.
This week to celebrate International day for Persons with Disabilities, we will be sharing ten stories of people with disability from around the world. To read these stories, please click here.
October 10th is World Mental Health Day. This year we address a key issue facing people living with psychosocial disabilities (disabilities caused by mental illness): dignity.
The theme chosen for October 10, 2015 is “Dignity in mental health”. The word ‘dignity’ comes from the Latin word meaning worthiness. It is the idea that everyone has the right to be valued and respected. But taking it one step further, dignity is also about how people feel: treating someone in a way that they feel valued and feel respected. When people are living with dignity, they feel confident and they are able to make decisions for themselves.
Worldwide, high levels of stigma and discrimination strip people with psychosocial disabilities of dignity and prevent them from the experience of living as, and being treated as, equal members of society.
At CBM, we believe that all people with disabilities deserve to live in a world that treats them with dignity. Here are 3 ways that we believe can promote the dignity of people with psychosocial disabilities:
1) Creating accessible, people-centred care following a humanitarian emergency
Knowing that disasters can negatively influence the mental health of a population, CBM sees humanitarian emergencies as an opportunity to ‘build back better.’ In Sierra Leone, for example, the Ebola virus disease outbreak impacted the mental health of the country in many ways. Not one person was excluded from the experience of stress, fear and loss. CBM used this opportunity to mobilize resources and establish, with other partners, 14 mental health units across the country. Previous to the outbreak, mental health care was only available at the Psychiatric Hospital and in a couple of health units outside of the capital city. Similarly, in the Philippines, following Typhoon Haiyan, CBM used the opportunity to establish mental health units with trained staff who could visit and support people with psychosocial disabilities in their communities.
Creating accessible mental health care following an emergency seeks to reduce the long term psychological impacts of a disaster. However, it also brings care closer to people with psychosocial disabilities, allowing them to rebuild their lives with dignity: close to their homes and families with trained staff who treat them with respect.
2) Supporting opportunities for voices to be heard
An important part of dignity is providing people with the opportunity to make choices and to have control in their lives. It is not enough to speak on behalf of people with psychosocial disabilities. Instead, what is needed is environments that offer support and build confidence, so that people with psychosocial disabilities can find and use their voices.
Maya Angelou put it best when she defined dignity: “Dignity. It means a belief in oneself, that one is worthy of the best. It means that what I have to say is important, and I will say it when it’s important for me to say it. Dignity really means that I deserve the best treatment I can receive. And that I have the responsibility to give the best treatment I can to other people.”
Since 2008, CBM has supported the Presbyterian Community Based Rehabilitation (PCBR) programme based in Northern Ghana, to establish self-help groups (SHGs) with the aim of providing mutual support, and enabling people to re-enter the community, both socially and economically. Now, with over 23 SHGs throughout the upper east region, the groups provide an important source of support to people with psychosocial disabilities and their families. Through the groups, members have been able to challenge discrimination, share support and advice, and attain financial security in a resource poor setting.
3) Advocating for change in global priorities
While local developments, such as the establishment of services and self-help groups, are necessary to promote dignity, progress on a global level is equally important.
In September, 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched. The SDGs build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and clearly state the priorities for governments and development agencies over the next 15 years. During the drafting process, FundaMentalSDG was formed: an alliance of organizations who believe in a common vision of seeing the SDGs consider the needs of people with psychosocial disabilities.
When the UN adopted the SDGs in September this year, we saw the exciting inclusion of mental health and well-being in the document. This success is in part due to the work of FundaMentalSDG, of which CBM is a founding member.
Mental health was not mentioned in the MDGs. Therefore, the inclusion of mental health and well-being in the SDGs indicates an increased respect for people with psychosocial disabilities on a global level. Equally important, we anticipate a greater investment in interventions that will lead to less human rights abuses against people with psychosocial disabilities.
On World Mental Health Day 2015, we are promoting the value and worth of people living with psychosocial disabilities. Whether we invest in improving access to care, the establishment of self-help groups or changing global priorities …it should all be done in the name of dignity.
“Things have a price and can be for sale but people have a dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things.” – Pope Francis
This week in New York, the Sustainable Development Goals will be finalised. This is a historic moment for CBM and other civil society organisations as world leaders come together to agree on 17 goals and 169 targets that aim to transform the world we live in over the next 15 years.
The SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were agreed in 2000 and come to an end this year.
The SDGs mark a huge shift from the MDGs in a number of ways. The MDGs were largely designed by a small number of individuals from high income countries. Discussions on the SDGs have included governments from low, middle and high income countries, civil society and more than 8 million people from 194 countries have had a say through online and face to face surveys. The MDGs only applied to low and middle income countries, while the SDGs are universal and apply to everyone.
In most cases the MDGs were about getting half way, for example halving the number of people living in extreme poverty. The SDGs are much more ambitious, they are about ending extreme poverty – finishing the job.
The other major difference is that disability wasn’t mentioned in the MDGs, which has led to people with disabilities being excluded from their progress. The number of children going to primary school for example has increased dramatically, but children with disabilities are much less likely to attend than their non-disabled peers. In Nepal for example, 85% of children who are out of school have a disability.
For several years CBM and our partners have been advocating for the SDGs to address this exclusion and to be inclusive of people with disabilities.
So we are therefore really pleased that SDGs promise to ‘Leave no one behind’ and to reach the furthest behind first. Disability is referenced 11 times in the new document. This includes making sure that all children can get an education, that people with disabilities have equal access to decent jobs and that they can participate on an equal basis with others in society. Many of the targets are also universal – which means that they have to be met for everyone, including people with disabilities.
Sometimes the discussions that happen between world leaders in New York can seem a million miles away from our everyday lives or the work we do. But reality is that the SDGs have the potential to have a huge impact on people’s lives around the world. They will determine what governments at both a national and local level prioritise, and where they spend their money.
We need to see the SDGs as a huge opportunity to change people’s lives for the better. They can get people and governments talking seriously about reducing inequalities and promoting social justice. They are a chance to make governments realise the importance of including people with disabilities in their policies and planning. They are also an important advocacy tool for people living with disabilities – who can take the document to their governments and argue for their inclusion.
When the goals are agreed at the end of this week a new challenge will begin; translating their ambition into action. CBM and our partners will continue working to make sure this ambition is realised. If we can grab the opportunities that the SDGs give us then we should all, including people with disabilities, be living in a much better world by 2030.
The ability to read and write is hugely powerful. Women who can read have fewer children later in life, and the children they do have are much more likely to survive. Being literate helps people to find jobs, access information and make decisions about their lives.
Today, on International Literacy Day (8th September), we think about the 781 million adults who cannot read, write or count, and about what needs to be done to make sure that they have the opportunities to gain these valuable skills.
While the data is poor, we know that people with disabilities often have lower levels of literacy than people without disabilities. This is hardly surprising when you consider that in developing countries, as many as 9 out of 10 children with disabilities do not go to school.
In the last 15 years there has been a huge global effort to get more children enrolled in primary school. This has led to a drop in the number of children out of school from 100 million in 2000 to 57 million today. While this progress is huge, many children with disabilities have been left behind. In many low and middle income countries, having a disability more than doubles the chance of a child not going to school. In Nepal for example, 85% of children out of school have a disability.
If they do attend school, children living with disabilities are often more likely to drop out and leave school early. They are also less likely to be able to learn – because schools are not correctly equipped, teachers are not trained or because they are discriminated against. Often getting children in to school and making sure they have the opportunity to learn vital skills such as reading and writing involves small changes; in teaching methods, in physical accessibility or even just in attitude.
Illiteracy among adults with disabilities is even more prevalent than among children, because those who are adults today were less likely to attend school that today’s children. To address this, adult literacy programmes need to be inclusive of people with disabilities. More broadly, we need to make sure that information is provided in alternative formats so that those who are unable to read can still access it.
Goal 4 in the new Sustainable Development Goals recognises the importance of inclusive education and promotes learning for all, including lifelong learning. This is a huge step forward and an important opportunity to ensure that people with disabilities have the same chance to become literate as their non-disabled peers. CBM is advocating that in the indicators that measure the new goals school enrolment is broken down by disability. Because only when we have good data about how many children with disabilities are not in school will we really be able to reach them all. We are also advocating for an indicator on the number of trained teachers to teach children with special educational needs; because getting children into school is not enough.
We often talk about the cycle of poverty and disability, the fact that disability causes poverty, and poverty causes disability. Literacy is one way of breaking this cycle – because when people learn to read and write they are more able to participate in society and have the power to change their own lives.
I arrived in Nepal on May 12th, some hours after the massive aftershock that caused more casualties and a number of additional damages to properties and infrastructure.
I could see in the faces of people how their lives were shaken again, and how they didn’t see where and how to ensure the safety of themselves and their families. My first night in Kathmandu was broken by a number of aftershocks that woke me up and made me run outside in search of safety.
Though earthquakes are not new to me, every time it makes me realise how frightening they are, bringing a feeling of helplessness.
Three weeks later, life has become quasi-normal in Kathmandu, with its traffic jams, crowds in the street, shops and restaurants all open. If you don’t travel to affected areas you won’t see that two major earthquakes hit the city only few weeks back. Though people are still talking a lot about them and every day small aftershocks remind all of us that it has happened.
Working with partners – ensuring inclusion
It’s been three weeks of working with partners to provide support to the most affected people, to raise awareness about persons with disabilities and older people and to make sure that all of them are included and have equal access to relief, despite the challenges posed by isolated and remote villages and the upcoming rainy season.
Our partners are doing a great job to save lives and contribute to the effort made to assist people in need through trauma care and rehabilitation, organising medical outreach camps, providing psychosocial support – trying to help people to regain independence and normality in their lives. However, we still hear stories from persons with disabilities and older people not being able to access distribution points and being left behind – unintentionally – by relief stakeholders. It is a hard job to reach out to the most at-risk, as often they are not informed, cannot reach the front of the queue and their voices are not heard.
What would you do?
What would you do to find food if you are an 80 year-old man living more than a three-hour walk far from the main road and next city? You will walk downhill, hoping to access a relief package, and then find out that you have to carry a 30 kg bag back uphill …and that you can’t do it. You will seek support, but all other people are also too busy trying to survive to help you.
What would you do if you are a blind person trying to find out where distributions are happening and how to access them, only to discover that you have to compete to be front of the queue as there are not enough supplies for all? Obviously you’ll be at a disadvantage, and most likely you’ll lose out.
What would you do if you are a deaf person, having been transferred by helicopter to Kathmandu for trauma care and have no clue of what is happening to you as no one can communicate with you?
These are only few stories, but many more like this are reported every day…
It is great that donors and organisations are moving towards inclusive policies and frameworks, but exclusion happens on the field. What would you do if you were that relief worker and have limited aid to distribute? Field workers must be supported to turn inclusive policies into inclusive humanitarian action.
Advocating for inclusion
CBM works with our partner the National Federation of Disabled in Nepal (NFDN), supporting them to identify persons with disability and older people and assess their needs to then mobilise humanitarian stakeholders to respond to them. It is very encouraging as many of these organisations are willing to make the extra effort, but lack knowledge or information to ensure inclusion.
Bhojraj Ghimire, CIL Kathmandu (checked shirt) takes part in the workshop on disability inclusion organised by CBM and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Kathmandu
Early last week I gave a two-hour orientation on disability inclusion to Red Cross staff, and the head of the delegation said:
“The Red Cross movement was created to help the most difficult to reach and the ones who couldn’t care for themselves, and yet in our response we reach only the easy one. We need to make the extra effort to access all those who are living in remote areas, who are facing barriers to access relief and whose rights we should protect.”
Well, this kind of statement and willingness to walk the extra miles is very encouraging as it will support the relief worker to pay attention and develop the mechanisms to help the older man to carry home his 30 Kg of goods, the blind person to find the distribution point and be in front of the queue or the deaf person to access a sign language interpreter to understand what is happening to him and get news from his family.
I will travel back to Europe soon but I’m confident that our partners will continue to raise their voices and to make them heard by all. Change is coming!
I’m in Bangkok this week taking part in the first CBM joint Disability Inclusive Development (DID) training – ensuring that people with disabilities are included and involved in all development activity. The workshop is aimed at sharing international experiences of disability inclusive development and discussing good practice.
The workshop started today with participants from all nine CBM regions, four member associations, and international office to share experiences, good practice, resources, expertise, but also challenges faced whilst working towards disability inclusion.
The first day’s main focus was learning from examples from six regions in sessions that were facilitated in a very lively and creative manner.
A common point of discussion was moving from a mere welfare approach to a rights based development approach along the empowerment framework, and from a bilateral cooperation between CBM and the organisations it supports towards a true partnership that promotes mutual learning between the organisations.
A key issue discussed was the alliance with Disabled People’s Organisations which, because of their expertise, have an important role in the promotion of inclusion. Different strategies and methodologies for their involvement were discussed, and it was remarked that CBM has to not only look inwards but also acknowledge the different roles of stakeholders to ensure we draw on their specific strengths.
CBM’s role was seen to facilitate the link between disability stakeholders, as well as with mainstream organisations, governments, technical and finance partners. It was acknowledged that in order to influence change, DPOs require capacity development to enhance their professionalism.
The benefits of involvement of DPOs on these different levels are:
- Increased self-esteem
- Improved academic, vocational and/or professional skills
- Improved socialisation
- Improved awareness of disability rights, participation and accessibility
- Increased understanding of structures and processes
- Improved leadership skills
- Increased understanding of relations on all levels, from grassroots to global
These will together lead to increased empowerment.
One of the important learnings of the day was the importance of gender sensitivity in our work, for example not just disaggregation of data by gender but also breaking down the data for people with disabilities by gender, keeping the gender lens during implementation, featuring men in our documentation and footage, and ensuring men are allies.
Quote of the day:
“It causes the partner problems if they learn that I am coming to visit them.” (from a CBM staff member using a wheelchair)
“Inclusion is not just about disability, inclusion is about everybody.” (from a CBM staff member)
I’m the Programme Manager for CBM UK and I visited Luz and her family when I was in Peru. I am enclosing a short report that I wrote after my visit.…
I met Jeick and his mother Luz at their home in Lima, Peru, where they live with Luz’s mother, four brothers and sisters and their children. A small space for such a large family.
Luz explained about the traumatic birth of Jeick which resulted in him being born prematurely at 27 weeks, weighing just over 1kg. Luz became upset as she described the experience which bought back memories of how she felt at the time, not knowing if her son was going to live or die, let alone see.
Luz had to leave Jeick in hospital after just three days, where he stayed for a further two months. She struggled to look after her other two children and visit the hospital every day to see Jeick. It took Luz an hour and a half to reach the hospital each day and the costs soon started to add up.
Luz showed us photos of Jeick from when he was born and still in an incubator. He looked so tiny and vulnerable.
Jeick was regularly screened for ROP where staff had been trained by CBM’s partners in Lima. At three months old he was diagnosed with ROP and given an urgent appointment. But by this point Luz could not afford to pay for the transport to hospital and so they could not make this first appointment.
When we stepped in to pay for her transport, our ophthalmologist was able to urgently conduct the laser treatment and after a short stay in hospital Jeick was able to return home.
It’s been over four months now since Jeick had his treatment and his vision continues to develop extremely well; early signs are that he will have good eye sight and potentially not even require glasses.
Luz told us how thankful she was for the treatment and support she received from CBM It was a real inspiration to meet Luz and hear about her experience and how CBM had made such a vital difference to their lives – not only had we provided sight saving treatment, but we also supported Luz in the rehabilitation process. Luz says she is very grateful for the treatment that Jeick received thanks to the programme and is very happy that her “angelito de diós” (little angel of God) is doing so well now.
Seeing Jeick now, you would never know what a traumatic experience he and his family went through. A real pleasure to see such a happy family.