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How can we break the link between poverty and disability?


Eva was not able to finish her education due to inadequate provision for students with disabilities. © Sightsavers

Last November, the International Development Select Committee (IDC) announced an inquiry into disability and development. Today, this landmark report is being published. For charities and non-governmental organizations working with people with disabilities in the Majority World, the report signals a huge step forward in recognizing that disability and development are inextricably linked.

We know that of the billion people worldwide who have a disability, the vast majority – 80 per cent – live in developing countries. On average, 1 in every 4 households in the poorest communities has an immediate member with a disability, affecting at least 2 billion people on a daily basis. But it’s not just about the big numbers – each case of a young person missing out on her or his right to an education because of a disability is one too many.

Eva, for example, is 16 and has poor vision. Her parents are farmers and she has 5 sisters and 4 brothers above the age of 18 who have all been to school. Eva, on the other hand, has not finished her education:

‘I left school aged 13 because of my eyes. I have a lot of pain and I can’t see things far away; I couldn’t see the blackboard. In the beginning, the problem was small, but as time went on the problem got worse. I told the teachers, but they did nothing. I struggled for 3 years – then I had to leave.’

There is a clear link between poverty and disability: poverty leads to higher rates of disability, and disability makes poverty harder to overcome. Development programmes must tackle this vicious circle: the potential for over a billion people with disabilities to contribute to development is being lost. It is only through their active inclusion that we can improve the effectiveness of aid. Eliminating extreme poverty then becomes a realistic aim.

In practice, giving people with disabilities a say in development programmes so that they benefit from them means first focusing on a limited number of countries and sectors (such as education and health).

In 2000, the Department for International Development (DfID) produced a report called ‘Disability, Poverty and Development’ that broke new ground by explicitly supporting the link between poverty and disability. But despite being an early champion of disability as a development issue and having supported specific disability initiatives, DfID has not secured significant or sustainable progress in this area. Deliberate and explicit measures are required to remove barriers and support the inclusion of people with disabilities. Only when the lives of people with disabilities become a priority for international development agencies will we be certain that no-one is left behind.

Natasha Kennedy is Campaigns Manager at Sightsavers. Find out more at Sightsavers’ Put Us in the Picture campaign.

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