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Living in an Inclusive World

BY KATHERINE THEN | 16 FEBRUARY 2018

According to UNICEF, an estimate of 93 million to 150 million children around the globe have a disability. What is a disability? As defined by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), “persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”. 

There are people living with a disability all around the globe - regardless of socio-economic status and circumstance. However, it has been noted that poverty can be a significant contributing factor to disability. Although very little research has been conducted in this area, disabilities amongst children in developing countries are common (The Borgen Project). Approximately 80% of the 100 million children in the world under the age of 5 that are living with a disability are currently living in a developing country (UNICEF). As stated by the World Health Organization (WHO), “those living in lower-income countries have a higher prevalence of disability than higher-income countries. Disability is more common among women, older people and children and adults who are poor”.

Why is this? Well, individuals living in low-income areas have very precarious living conditions. Lack of access to healthcare, nutritious foods, clean water, and basic sanitation can significantly affect children’s development in the womb and during the first 5 years of life. Additionally, dangerous living and working conditions due to conflict, natural disasters, or poverty can increase the risk of developing a disability.

Although the Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities (CRPD) was adopted in 2006 and signed by 160 countries with the purpose of promoting, protecting, and ensuring the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities; individuals with disabilities continue to struggle with access to healthcare, education, and employment. 

In some perspectives, lack of inclusion tends to be the main barrier for people with disabilities to live dignified lives. When considering those living with disabilities, too often do we focus on their limitations, rather than their capabilities or possibilities? “Children with disabilities are often defined or judged by what they lack rather than what they have” (UNICEF). By doing this, we are inadvertently restricting the potential of those living with disabilities to reach their full potential.

Sometimes a lack of understanding, fear of difference, and religious or cultural views can result in stigmatization and discrimination of children, young people, and adults. What then happens is that stigmatization and discrimination then leads to exclusions: adults are denied work, children and youth are often not allowed to attend school or to participate in their community due to low expectation of family members, teachers or employers. “Their exclusion and invisibility serves to rather them as unequally vulnerable, denying them respect for their dignity, their individuality. Even their right to life itself” (UNICEF).

So what can we do to live in a more inclusive world, where people living with disabilities can enjoy their rights and freedoms? Where children with disabilities can actually attend school, where we train ourselves and others to be able to support children in their learning. Where parents are encouraged, and accommodations for people with disabilities are available.

In college, when I lived in New York I used to work with adults aged 30-50 that had a range of different developmental disabilities. As a recreation counselor, I assisted in implementing recreational activities that supported them to develop independency to live and participate in the community. We used to hop on the train every Saturday to a cinema, museum, park, restaurant, or shopping mall. After a lovely day out, all members of the program would go home, some lived with their families, others in a group home, and others lived independently. 

Today, I work on the Thai-Myanmar border, and I visit a 4-year old child with Cerebral Palsy every couple of weeks. He was born in Thailand, but his mother is a migrant from Myanmar and they both are undocumented. He lives with his mom who doesn’t work, in order to care for him. He has limited to no access to physical therapy and hasn’t been able to properly exercise his muscles to sit or eat on his own. He does not attend school, because of the lack of resources and inability/capacity of schools to accommodate him.

Both of these experiences are so vastly different. But they are a reminder that opportunity is not universal, and that there is still much to be done if we truly want to live in an inclusive world. What is the first step? Educating ourselves and then asking ourselves: how can I better support those that are living with a disability?


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