On December 3, 2018, Sightsavers will be joining forces with several other non-profit organizations to celebrate the 27th “International Day of Persons With Disabilities.” About ten percent of the world’s population lives with at least one disability. In fact, this number jumps to twenty percent among citizens with very low income. These statistics may seem hard to believe but they come from the World Health Organization (WHO), which is probably in the best position in the world to collect the data needed to formulate this estimation.
Sightsavers works very closely with the World Health Organization on many projects and initiatives. Some of the data the World Health Organization collects on persons with disabilities originates from the dedicated work Sightsighters does in the poorest regions of the world. Each year, a different theme is chosen by committee for the International Day of Persons With Disabilities. The 2018 theme is, “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.” Sightsavers has been integrally involved in establishing international law and encouraging people to establish local laws and customs that empower individuals with disabilities.
Equal access to education for children with disabilities is one area of emphasis for Sightsavers. The social stigma associated with disabilities has prevented many children, especially those living in Africa, from attending school. Besides the misery this can inflict on a young person and their family, it is also unfortunately one of the most reliable predictors of a disabled person’s success in getting a job and living independently as an adult. Thus, Sightsavers makes a special effort to supply disabled children with the special supplies they need to participate in school. Sightsavers also provides funding so that teachers can receive special training in how to accommodate a disabled child.
Sightsavers advocates for children with disabilities to attend regular school, right along side other children in their home community, instead of special schools for the disabled. This was established early on at Sightsavers with Lady Jane Wilson, a teacher in the UK, visited programs in the United States that were already doing this. She saw with her own eyes how well it worked to have disabled children learning and playing beside children who did not have disabilities. It should be noted that many children with disabilities excel in school, even performing at the top of their class, once given the opportunity to go to school. The acceptance, as well as the scholastic success is source of pride for the disabled child, their family, and the entire community. This is what’s known as a win, win, win! It’s also money very well spent by Sightsavers and its partners.
Not only do children with disabilities thrive when placed in a school with other children without disabilities, their classmates benefit too. The interaction between disabled children and those without disabilities fosters lifetime friendships and helps to alleviate the social stigma that so many disabled children have suffered through over the years. Children that grow up studying and playing with a diverse group of children tend to embrace diversity, not discriminate against it. People who work for or with Sightsavers have noted that the barriers that were there before, when children with disabilities were segregated, just come tumbling down if they get to interact with all types of children.
As is true with many other things in life, simply being compliant with the law isn’t always enough when it comes to being inclusive. When organizations like Sightsavers celebrate the International Day of Persons With Disabilities, this draws attention to this fact by highlighting people, businesses, schools, and organizations that do more than what is required by law and find a way to be more inclusive. A really good example of this is the Long Line Family Recreation Center, located in Sioux City, Iowa, USA. This family oriented rec center had all the accessibility requirements imposed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that enabled disabled people to get in the building. However, once inside, the giant climbing wall, the hippest coolest thing in the center, was not accessible for most people with disabilities — but they found a way to make that happen!
According to Bill Lane, one of the coaches at the center, the recreation center got a special grant to make their wall accessible to people with disabilities. With help from the city government employees and a local non-profit called the Miracle League of Sioux City, the rec center in Sioux City is now able to provide an enriching experience to people with disabilities. How exactly did they do this? To the climbing wall itself, they added special hand holds that are much easier to grasp and hold on to. They also brought in special pulley systems, anchors, and special ascending devices. Now everyone in Sioux City can enjoy the climbing wall equally and together side by side. Hopefully, other cities will follow this outstanding example of inclusiveness. Kudos Sioux City Kansas!
Sightsavers has a long history of encouraging those with physical and mental disabilities to push themselves in recreation and competitive sports. It all started in 1969 when Sir John Wilson, the founder of Sightsavers, encouraged a group of seven blind men to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, 5895 meters, 19,341 feet tall! Their success was reported in newspapers around the world. This effort inspired generations of disabled people to follow their dreams and reach new heights. They began to understand just what they were capable and their cumulative successes changed the attitudes of many. There’s another advantage too. Disabled kids who see disabled adults climb to such heights will have less resistance to participating in games with other children.
In fact, Sightsavers sponsored Mount Kilimanjaro expedition led to an even more remarkable change in the lives of children with disabilities. Blind African children, whose parents had not previously allowed them to attend school, had a change of heart when they heard about the news of infamous trek up Mount Kilimanjaro. They could suddenly envision that their children could overcome whatever obstacle they had and allowed them to go to school for the first time. Subsequent climbs up Mount Kilimanjaro over the years have raised a great deal of money for disabled persons, in addition to proving time and time again that persons with disabilities can do amazing things, sometimes even perform acts that many people without disabilities could never accomplish.
Sightsavers has sponsored several athletes with disabilities too. The Paralympic Games is the highest competition for athletes with physical disabilities. They run parallel to the Olympic Games. Paralympians have physical disabilities of all varieties include missing limbs, vision impairment, and impaired muscular function due to illnesses such as muscular dystrophy, polio, and spina bifida. In 2016, Sightsavers sponsored Taonere Banda, a paralympian from Malawi, a country in southeast Africa. She competed in the Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She was ahead of all of her competitors for three quarters of the race until she injured her leg. Still, she became an overnight sensation and inspiration to everyone in home country of Malawi and across the globe. It is always inspiring to see a person overcome an obstacle. It’s the stuff of movies!
Speaking of paralympians, Ireland born Kelly Gallagher, was one of the celebrities to join forces with Sightsavers’ Put Us in the Picture campaign. Sightsavers launched this campaign in 2013 on International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Kelly was a gold medalist in alpine skiing in the2 014 Winter Paralympics. She is a visually impaired competitor and she used sighted person as a guide during her competitions and training but the hard training and the athletic prowess was all her own ability. For the Put Us in the Picture campaign, she was photographed by John Rankin Waddell with a picture frame around her face, along with other celebrities including Gaz Coombes, a musician and songwriter, and Tom Hooper, a film and television director.
The main purpose of Sightsavers’ Put Us in the Picture campaign is really quite simple. The campaign advocates for people with disabilities to have have the same rights as everyone else, nothing more, nothing less. When Sightsavers interviews people with disabilities, it becomes obvious that the main thing they want is to be included in everything things, to have a “normal” life. For example, they want to go to school with all the other children. They want to be given the opportunity to participate in training to gain the skills for a particular job or trade. They want the basic right to vote and have a say in who’s elected and the laws that will add to or take away their rights. They want to live independently, get married, raise a family, and support their family. They want to be loved and accepted and they want the opportunity to give that right back. After all, disabled peopled are just normal people who happen to have a disability.
People with disabilities have been marginalized in society for so many decades, it would be impractical for any organization or program to expect a community or a whole country to change their prevailing attitudes overnight. However, substantial incremental steps are very doable with continued effort applied, along with a great deal of publicity. The annual International Day of Persons With Disabilities gives advocacy groups like Sightsavers a chance to renew their efforts with particular vigor every single year. It also gives them the opportunity to announce a new program like Sightsavers’ Put Us In the Picture global campaign with a bigger splash than would be possible otherwise.
When the truth about what people with disabilities have had to endure, it becomes easier for people to say, “Wait a minute, that’s not fair… not fair at all!” and to instigate positive change. The truth is that people with disabilities are more likely to be abused, bullied, and discriminated against. Many have suffered through years of particularly harsh social stigma in almost every facet of their lives. This is even more pronounced in nations with a higher percentage of people living in poverty. Sightsavers’ emphasis on changing the perception of those with disabilities, showing how a disabled person can contribute greatly to society, is really starting to penetrate the mindset of the masses. Social media helps to spread the word in a way that would not have been possible even ten to twenty years ago. You can use hashtags, #IDPD and #Sightsavers, by the way when you link to this article on Twitter or Facebook.
When people with disabilities tell their stories and share their struggles and successes, it reveals the humanity that they share with everyone else. Sightsavers’ Put Us In the Picture campaign and the publicity around International Day of Persons with Disabilities gives them a megaphone through which to share their life experiences. One particularly touching story is how three visually impaired young adults in their twenties and early thirties learned how to start a food package business. The business is called Satata Enterprises and it operates in the Narsingdi District of Bangladesh. They acquired the skills on how to start the business and keep it running after taking training funded by Sightsavers. Now, they employ several other persons with disabilities and plan to expand even more! They have found a way not only to be self-sufficient but also give back to their community.
A blind twenty-three year old man named Albert in Uganda found a new independent life after taking training from Sightsavers through an economic development program. Albert had gradually lost his sight as a child. However, there was not enough money in the family for medical treatment nor for any special schooling. After Albert’s parents died, his older brother tried to take care of him but Albert had lost all hope he would ever be able to support himself. To make matters worse, some in his village would make fun of him and tell him just to sit down because he couldn’t do anything. However, after attending the economic development program sponsored by Sightsavers, Albert learned how to knit garments and he received a knitting machine so he could earn a living knitting right in his own community as an entrepreneur.
Sightsavers has had many successes in encouraging governments to incorporate inclusiveness into their policies and programs. About a month after the International Day of Persons With Disabilities last year, the UK Department of International Development (DFID) announced that it would be including disabled people in their goal to eliminate extreme poverty. Specially, they planned to offer hundreds of small grants for a variety of inclusiveness projects through their Disability Catalyst Fund. Coinciding with the International Day of Persons With Disabilities in 2014, the DFID published a “DFID Disability Framework” policy paper laying out in detail how they intended to strengthen their inclusion policies for people with disabilities. This coincided with Sightsavers’ first anniversary of their Put Us In the Picture campaign.
Non-profits like Sightsavers and governmental entities like the UK Department of International Development tend to orchestrate grand scale inclusivity projects for persons with disabilities. However, each and every one of us can make a difference by taking action when we see it is needed. For example, if you are a parent and you see your child’s soccer league does not accommodate kids with disabilities, you can prepare a statement with concrete ideas on how to change things and then present your suggestions to the principal, school board, and soccer league. If you hear that a neighbor who is disabled has expressed an interest in gardening, you could lead an effort to build her some raised garden beds level with her wheel chair height. Who knows, you may end up making a lifetime friend in the process.
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Debi, graduate of an employment training programme supported by #EUCommission in Bangladesh. “People used to think that I cannot do anything. At the same time, I was thinking that I couldn’t do anything but now I think I can do a lot of things if I have the opportunity. I have a physical disability: within my home I walk by using my hands, but if I go outside, I use a wheelchair. I didn’t go to school, but I stayed at home and learned to write my name and things. I have brothers and we used to have a tutor so I learned from them. There is a mass education school that was free, and I crawled myself there when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I learned how to write a little bit, how to manage a home. I went there for a year. The school closed, that’s why I stopped. I used to do nothing. I just stayed at home, and simply sat doing nothing. [Then] I had sewing training from Sightsavers that was very good. When I had the training, it gave me a source of inspiration and helped me to do more exercises and build my experience. After the training, I can do the job very well. I am doing this sewing to earn some money and support my family by selling these blankets. My customers are the people around this place, and in my community when there are newborn babies, I get orders from my relatives and from different places. I was a bit immature before. I didn’t know much. But when I got the training, I found a real change in myself. After receiving the training I don’t fear anything, I can go anywhere. I want to earn by myself so I can live my life on my own.” A world where people with disabilities are empowered to participate fully in society doesn’t have to be make believe – you can help make it a reality. Take action for a more inclusive world by clicking the link in our bio. 📷 tommy.trenchard #InThePicture #Sightsavers #NotMakeBelieve #LeaveNoOneBehind #inclusion #disability #socialinclusion #disabilityinclusion #humanrights #fairness #equality #empowerment #Bangladesh #Bangladeshi #Bengali #everydayasia #dhaka
If you see a person with disabilities struggling in some way in the workplace, you can always be the one to step up and improve the situation. Maybe you can invite them out for drinks after work or ask them to help you plan a birthday party for a mutual colleague. If your company has a sports team, you can ask your disabled colleague how you could accomodate them to play on the team. If they can’t physically play, you could ask them if they’d like to participate in another way such as planning strategy and coaching. If you happen to be on a hiring committee, you can advocate for hiring a person with disabilities. Every positive act of inclusiveness makes a difference.
Join Sightsavers and others in celebrating the International Day of Persons With Disabilities. You can always donate to Sightsavers to help them do even more to spread inclusiveness in impoverished areas where it is needed most. Beyond this, you can volunteer at a local charity or simply be on the look out for opportunities to pitch in where needed. For example, if you see someone is being avoided by others due to their disability, make a special point of getting to know that person. Invite them to a dinner party and introduce them around. Each individual act to ensure inclusiveness and equality will multiply into thousands of such acts as inclusivity is highly contagious!
Contact Sightsavers here for more information.
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