As the world looks to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, it’s of utmost importance that we improve access to education, reduce hunger and malnutrition rates, and fight back against gender inequality.
But to truly ensure that “no one gets left behind,” working with the most vulnerable populations is essential — and among those populations are people living with disabilities.
It’s not going to be easy. The stories of people with disabilities in the developing world are often associated with grim statistics, which underline how far we have to go in the battle to end extreme poverty.
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1) 80% of people living with a disability live in developing countries
An estimated 1 billion people — 15% of the world — live with disabilities, according the World Health Organization (WHO).
And 80% of those people live in developing countries. Accessibility continues to be a barrier for people with disabilities, but there are so many more obstacles they face beyond physical impairment.
"The barriers that people face aren’t just physical ones, although we know that there are many and that they are immense. But they end up being cultural ones and social barriers too," said former UK International Development Secretary Justine Greening in a 2015 speech.
"We know that people with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed, they are less likely to get to school, in some cases they literally won’t be able to participate in life," she added. "So it is vital that we make more progress on this."
2) 90% of children living with a disability in developing countries are not in school
About 264 million children are out of school today due to barriers like conflict and violence, gender equality and poverty. If a child lives with a disability in the developing country, access to education becomes even less likely.
While it is estimated that 90% of children living with a disability in developing countries are not in school, there is little data to support these children.
They are therefore often forgotten. When countries do have some knowledge of these children, most do not know how to adjust the education system to best suit their needs, according to the Global Partnership for Education.
SDG 4 looks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all, which means that by 2030, all children should have equal access to education no matter of gender, race, conflict — or disability.
3) Women and girls with disabilities are more vulnerable to abuse
Women and girls face countless barriers around the world due to gender inequality. But for those who also live with a disability, they are considered to be “multiply disadvantaged,” according to Disabled World.
They are more likely to experience abuse in their lifetime too. In 2004, a study about women and girls with disabilities in Orissa, India, revealed that almost all of them had been beaten at home, 25% of respondents with intellectual disabilities had been raped and 6% had been forcibly sterilized.
4) Poor people are more likely to have a disability
Disability and poverty are linked. Disability can increase the likelihood of poverty — and poverty can increase the risk of disability.
Developing a disability could have social and economic impacts that lead to barriers to education, employment and earnings, which can therefore lead to poverty. On the flip side, poverty can result in disability as poor people cannot always access good health care, good food, or secure living conditions, which can all result in disabilities.
It is estimated that 20% of the world’s poorest people have some kind of disability.
5) Only 45 countries in the world have anti-discrimination and other disability-specific laws
Initiatives and laws have been put in place to protect and support people with disabilities in some parts of the world, but that is not the case everywhere.
Some countries, like Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the US, have anti-discrimination laws that make it illegal to make employment decisions based on someone’s disability, and other countries have included anti-discrimination clauses in legislation or constitutions, according to the World Report on Disability.
Such laws can protect people from discrimination and can also enforce quotas when it comes to employment — which ideally guarantees jobs for those living with disabilities — and can prevent or eliminate poverty.
But legislation is often not enough. For example, Ghana’s Disability Law was passed in 2006, but it did not revolutionize the way people with disabilities were treated. In 2015, Sophie Morgan, a British journalist, travelled to Ghana to make a documentary about people who live with a disability there. She was shocked to discover some of their living conditions. Some people with disabilities had been confined to one room for years at a time, others at prayer camps were shackled by chains as part of their "treatment."
Much of the work the world strives to accomplish as it approaches 2030 is connected to improved access, and it’s no different here. To achieve the SDGs is to achieve them for all — and so addressing the barriers faced by those living with disabilities is essential in reaching all Global Goal initiatives.