Disability Pay Gap
Recently, more and more information has been coming to light on how employment and wage differ for people, especially for minorities such as women and people of color. However, one group of people has frequently experienced exclusion from the conversation: people with disabilities. On average in the U.K., disabled employees receive almost £2 per hour less than their coworkers without disabilities. Over the last couple of years, the disability pay gap has been widening. In 2014, employees with disabilities earned 11.7% less than non-disabled employees. In 2019, they earned 14.1% less.

The pay gap is significantly more apparent for women than men. From 1997-2014, the disability pay gap for men was 13%, whereas it was 7% for women. The pay gap also differs significantly for those with mental versus physical disabilities. Men with mental disorders such as depression and anxiety had a pay gap of 30%, whereas women suffering from the same mental illnesses had a pay gap of 10%. Men with learning disabilities experienced even higher pay gaps, making around 60% less than other workers without disabilities.

The Cause of This Pay Gap

Many factors influence the disability pay gap, from facing discrimination to impairments due to their disability. However, the most influential factor is that many people with disabilities are less likely to work full-time and year-round in nearly every occupation, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report. When factoring in the schedules and occupations of a worker with disabilities, the pay gap nearly disappeared. Similarly, accounting for sickness leave also significantly reduces the pay gap.

Despite this, people with disabilities still earn significantly less than the average non-disabled worker meaning they are more susceptible to falling into poverty. People living in poverty are also more likely to develop a disability, meaning their chance of employment is even lower. In fact, almost half of those living in poverty in the U.K. are people with disabilities.

The disability pay gap only exacerbates the poverty rate for those with disabilities, as they often have a higher cost of living due to extra health care and accommodations. In addition, many people with disabilities face higher levels of unemployment and poverty because they tend to be less educated. For example, in the U.S. one in five adults with disabilities has less than a high school education, more than double the rate for those without disabilities. Only 19% of disabled adults possess a college degree, compared with more than 35% of non-disabled adults. 

Organizations and Legislative Bills Assisting

Despite the tremendous hurdles that people with disabilities face, many organizations and legislative bills are seeking to assist people with disabilities.

  • In the U.K., the Jobcentre Plus Support for Schools, first introduced in 2016, is a program that provides career advice and assistance for young people who have a disability. Since then, it has partnered with more than 1,400 schools to provide career advice and guidance to young people with disabilities.
  • Introduced in 2017, the Personal Support Package offers employment support for people with disabilities that is delivered through the U.K. government.

In conclusion, those with disabilities face a tremendously higher rate of poverty, something that people often leave out of the discussion regarding global poverty. However, organizations and governments are making an effort to combat it and as they put more and more measures into place, the poverty rate is slowly reducing.

– Padma Balaji
Photo: Unsplash

Disabled Children in Ukraine
The current crisis in Ukraine has disrupted the lives of millions. Among the affected, disabled children in Ukraine are the most vulnerable to the impact of displacement, abuse and abandonment.

Child Poverty in Ukraine

The United Nations defines poverty not simply as the absence of money but rather as a scarcity of vital resources needed to survive. It is a concept that various internal and external factors influenced. Family income, societal status, natural disasters and armed conflicts all contribute. Before Russia’s invasion, the nation had approximately 90,000 disabled children residing in institutions such as orphanages or boarding schools.

While censuses can measure the monetary value, they cannot attest to the lack of resources available for institutional care facilities. At state institutions, disabled children and their caretakers are experiencing waves of infrastructural deterioration. They are experiencing overcrowding, poor quality of care due to understaffing and shortages in hygienic, medicinal and food supplies.

When all these variables combine, it creates the perfect environment for vulnerable individuals to experience the direst situations. The Arc, an American NGO dedicated to promoting equality and inclusivity, estimates a total of 2.7 million people with disabilities live in Ukraine. Despite the large population, only 4% of Ukrainian infrastructure is reachable to citizens with disabilities. For example, Ukrainian authorities are using its subway system as bomb shelters, which are inaccessible to many disabled citizens.

The Impact of War on Disabled Children

Since the war between Ukraine and Russia began, more than 4 million children have experienced displacement: externally as refugees or internally. Overwhelmed authorities returned thousands of disabled children to their points of origin without assessing how safe they would be in their home environments. This dire course of action significantly impacts impoverished disabled children. Many are returning to areas where they cannot receive proper protection, care or other services needed to survive. The constant internal migration of disabled children in Ukraine further exposes them to dangerous situations; for instance, disabled girls face higher risks of abuse and abandonment.

There is a severe history of war disproportionately impacting the lives of impoverished and disabled people everywhere. This is primarily due to societal stigmas which can prevent families of children with disabilities from receiving appropriate humanitarian action and response. During times of conflict, children with disabilities are more likely to be a part of civilian casualties. This tragedy is due to inadequate and inaccessible resources such as advanced warnings, evacuations, transportation, humanitarian aid, shelters and inclusive services.

Protecting Disabled Children in Ukraine

However, countless organizations have become involved in providing relief. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been working in Ukraine since 1997 and remains the leading organization that provides humanitarian aid for children. UNICEF and its associates have prioritized awareness campaigns to minimize human rights violations against disabled children in Ukraine. Mobile “child protection” teams also emerged to administer mental health resources to displaced children and caregivers. UNICEF also sponsors local Ukrainian associates to accommodate rehabilitation services, accessible technology, inclusive supplies, essential sanitation items and others.

In addition, UNICEF has developed “Blue Dot Hubs” in Ukraine’s bordering countries, taking in refugees. The hubs act as checkpoints where migrating families are equipped with vital information. This is also a space to document, identify and protect unaccompanied or separated children. UNICEF has also built child-friendly spaces. Here, displaced children can be kids and have access to family reunification services and trained professionals like psychologists and social workers. This kind of aid can be directly beneficial for children with disabilities.

As of Monday, August 8, 2022, USAID, in cooperation with the U.S. government, arranged for an additional $4.5 billion in direct aid to the government of Ukraine. The support will help Ukrainian authorities continue to manage infrastructural functions. Meaning, this will include the power to hospitals, humanitarian assistance and compensation to essential workers. The additional relief also provides vital economic and social subsidies. Those who benefit are internally displaced and impoverished citizens and disabled children in Ukraine.

Political figures, celebrities and non-governmental organizations sustain calling for immediate aid and action to protect disabled children in Ukraine and elsewhere. Foreign support and humanitarian assistance continue to funnel essential resources in hopes of counteracting the symptoms of war.

– Ricardo Silva
Photo: Flickr

Extraordinary Attorney Woo
The Korean drama, or K-Drama, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo,” reached both domestic and global popularity since its debut on June 29, 2022. Between July 25 and July 31, the drama noted more than 65.63 million streaming hours. This K-drama follows the life of an autistic genius, Woo Young-woo, as she juggles her career as a rookie attorney and faces discrimination in the workplace and her personal life. Slowly, as she tackles one case after another, her colleagues begin to accept her and her autism. “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” sheds light on an important issue in South Korea: Disabled people need more support.

Disabled People in South Korea

More than 2.6 million individuals (5%) of South Korea’s population in 2022 are registered as disabled people, but despite this large number, disabled people face persistent barriers and discrimination in transportation, schools and the workplace.

“Extraordinary Attorney Woo” particularly highlights the difficulties Woo endured while trying to secure employment and the discrimination she faced in the workplace. This is a reality for many disabled people in South Korea. Disabled people are also at a higher risk of poverty due to barriers in the workplace, such as a lack of disability facilities.

Although South Korea’s government aimed to increase fair work opportunities for disabled people, the employment rate among people with disabilities stood at 34.5% in 2019, which is significantly lower than South Korea’s national employment rate average of 60.9%. Inadequate accommodation for disabled people in the workplace, “such as wheelchair ramps and accessible toilets,” presents barriers to securing or maintaining employment,  which is key to economic security. However, for a majority of disabled people, securing employment is limited due to a lack of disability-friendly facilities and structures.

Additionally, disabled people in South Korea also have limited access to education. Despite more than 98,000 students meeting the eligibility requirements for “special education” in 2021, less than 28% of them attended specialized schools for students with disabilities and the others studied in “special education classes” in traditional schools. However, disabled students in traditional schools are subject to “bullying and condescension.” Moreover, traditional school designs do not account for the needs of disabled students.

Progress for Disabled People in South Korea

“Extraordinary Attorney Woo” depicts a relatively more accepting work environment that is not far from reality. In 2017, 80% of disabled people reported facing discrimination, but in 2021, the figure has fallen to almost 66%. South Korea has made many leaps in progress to bring equality to disabled people.

Advocacy is key to bringing change for disabled people as protests and movements led the government to pass many pieces of legislation. For instance, the 2005 Act on Promoting Transportation Convenience for Mobility Disadvantaged Persons mandated the accommodation of disabled people in public transportation through special customizations. In 2007, through legislation, South Korea prohibited the discrimination of disabled persons.

Moreover, South Korea has law firms that have a disability as a practice area, allowing disabled people to secure their rights. Public interest law firms such as Gonggam, engage in and finance disability rights advocacy. Furthermore, the Korea Disability Law Association “published a manual on disability rights for lawyers and judges in 2013.” Such support for disabled people from institutions “bolsters policy implementation” and strengthens “disability-related governance.”

In the show, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo,” Woo stood as a harbinger of change as she made others realize their discriminatory perspectives. Similarly, self-advocacy by disabled people was pivotal in bringing change and expanding the rights of disabled people in South Korea. Although “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” highlights South Korea’s shortcomings in disability support, South Korea has been increasingly making progress in recognizing the rights of people with disabilities. With legal institutions and advocates stepping up, disabled people can participate in society more fully and rise up out of poverty.

– Samyukta Gaddam
Photo: Flickr

Disability and Poverty in the U.K.
Like in so many other countries, disability and poverty in the U.K. are rampant. However, people often overlook the disabled in the U.K. because it is not a developing country. In the U.K., 14.6 million people are disabled and face prejudice because of their disabilities.

The Equality Act of 2010

The Equality Act of 2010 includes rights for those with disabilities. It defines disability as one having “a physical and mental impairment for a substantial and long-term negative effect on one’s ability to perform daily activities.”

Rights under the Equality Act include protection from prejudice and discrimination based on one’s disability. People with disabilities often experience discrimination in education and in the workplace.

Disability and Education

Of the 14.6 million people battling disability and poverty in the U.K., 9% are children, according to Scope. Children with disabilities are more likely to experience bullying and exclusion from the education system.

As of 2021, of the people with a disability in the U.K., “24.9% had a degree or equivalent as their highest education.” Comparatively, 42.7% of the non-disabled people had a degree. Disabled people are almost three times more likely to not have a degree at all.

Disability and Employment

Because they are less likely to receive an educational degree, disabled people in the U.K. are “less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people.” The employment rate for disabled people in the U.K. is 53%, while the employment rate for non-disabled people is 82%, according to Scope. The employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people is 29%.

Because the employment rate is comparatively lower for disabled people than non-disabled people, poverty for the disabled is likely. In 2014, 18.4% of the disabled people within the working age, 16-64, experienced food poverty. Meanwhile, disabled people above the age of 65 are twice as likely to experience food poverty, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report.

The Disability Resource Centre

The Disability Resource Centre (DRC) is a nonprofit organization that helps battle poverty in the U.K. by empowering disabled people. In 1992, the Birmingham Disability Rights Group established DRC, and now, it advocates to improve the lives of disabled people across the U.K.

It is a disabled-led organization that offers a variety of services including advocacy, life skills development, employment and training opportunities, among many other services. Its mission is to give disabled people an opportunity to live out their full potential in society.

In 2019/2020, DRC served more than 3,600 people with 3,000 more people using its e-learning portal. Additionally, during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, DRC conducted 366 outreach activities to empower disabled people across the U.K.

Although disability and poverty in the U.K. are growing problems, organizations like the Disability Resource Centre are giving disabled people a voice and an opportunity to thrive in a hostile society.

– Chris Karenbauer
Photo: Flickr

Rehabilitation 2030 initiative
The World Health Organization (WHO) has made rehabilitation one of its top priorities over the next several years through the Rehabilitation 2030 initiative. This program strives to increase the availability and accessibility of rehabilitation services around the world. According to WHO, rehabilitation involves “a set of interventions designed to optimize functioning and reduce disability in individuals with health conditions in interaction with their environment.” Treatment can involve a combination of assistive devices, counseling and therapy to achieve this outcome. Unfortunately, “in some low- and middle-income countries, more than 50% of people do not receive the rehabilitation services” necessary to live a better quality of life. The Rehabilitation 2030 initiative seeks to address this.

The Global Need for Rehabilitation

Hundreds of millions of malaria cases occur every year with the large majority happening in developing tropical nations in Africa and Southeast Asia. Around 10% of malaria survivors experience significant cognitive and neurological impairments that can impact their motor function, hearing and sight and their ability to process information. Rehabilitative techniques, such as cognitive therapy, can treat these disorders and give people a chance to improve their health and quality of life. Unfortunately, cognitive exercises and other similar rehab treatments are not widely available in many countries with high rates of malaria.

Over the past decade, the prevalence of diseases associated with severe disabilities has increased by more than 20%. This includes ailments like rheumatoid arthritis and cancer that can take a heavy physical toll on an individual, limiting one’s independence. The technologies and knowledge to rehabilitate many of these symptoms exist, but their availability is inadequate in many parts of the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries. In fact, the availability of trained rehabilitation specialists is about 10 per one million people.

Even when these services are readily available, cost, lack of transportation and waiting times serve as constraints to accessibility. Individuals with disabilities who go without rehabilitation are likely to remain hospitalized for longer and are at higher risk of developing complications. They are also less likely to achieve the independence required to return to employment and their social roles.

Disabilities and Poverty

Around “50% of disabilities are preventable” and tie closely with poverty. Unmanaged disability can become an obstacle to education, impacting literacy rates. According to a 2000 publication by the Department for International Development (DFID), UNESCO estimates that “1–2% of children with disabilities in developing countries receive an education.” Without access to an adequate education, people with disabilities are unlikely to find gainful employment. In turn, many of those individuals cannot pay for the cost of their own care, placing that burden on other family members.

In addition, families members may have to drop out of school or work to care for the person with a disability, reducing household incomes and closing the doors to future prosperity. These outcomes not only hurt those with disabilities and their families but also the societies that host them. Communities without adequate rehabilitation services bear financial burdens that go beyond direct medical costs, such as the loss of otherwise productive members of society who previously could contribute to the economy.

Rehabilitation 2030 Initiative

In 2017, more than 200 stakeholders met in Geneva to support WHO’s “Rehabilitation 2030: a call for action” conference. From this, the Rehabilitation 2030 initiative was born with an emphasis on three points:

  1. The open availability of rehabilitation for all populations.
  2. To strengthen and integrate rehabilitation into larger health care systems.
  3. To acknowledge that rehabilitation is an important service to develop to reach universal health coverage.

Under this initiative, participating nations accept these three points and agree to commit themselves to 10 areas of action. These areas address the need for rehab financing, the strengthening of networks that connect people and health care services and the need for further research into rehabilitation. In support of these goals, WHO has lent technical assistance to more than 20 countries in the creation of strategic plans. In 2019, representatives from member states and organizations reconvened and shared their strategies and progress with each other, reifying their commitments to increasing the availability of rehabilitation.

There is a growing need for expanding the availability of rehabilitative care around the world. Untreated disability can constrain people’s learning and economic potential. Fortunately, many nations around the world are acknowledging the importance of rehabilitative care through their commitments to the Rehabilitation 2030 initiative and strive to improve services.

Gonzalo Rodriguez
Photo: Flickr

food insecurity and disability
Food insecurity disproportionately affects people with disabilities because they are often at higher risk of unemployment and lower-paying salaries. Additionally, people with disabilities are more likely to encounter obstacles with transportation and accessibility at work. Economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic make food insecurity an even more widespread issue for people with disabilities, especially in developing countries. Around the world, there is a strong link between disability and food insecurity. Fortunately, solutions exist to help reduce poverty and alleviate food insecurity among people with disabilities.

Social and Economic Disparities

People with disabilities face an array of challenges that make them more susceptible to poverty and food insecurity. For example, stigmatization and discrimination increase the likelihood of people with disabilities facing hunger and malnutrition. This marginalized group is also at increased risk of enduring poor living conditions and limited access to health care.

From a young age, people with disabilities are less likely to have access to education. This makes it more difficult to secure job opportunities and afford basic essentials as an adult. Social services and assistive technologies for disabilities also tend to be scarce in developing countries. A variety of socioeconomic factors, intensified by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, drive the link between food insecurity and disability.

Disability Assistance

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are several ways to combat food insecurity among people with disabilities. One way is to provide federal and local disability assistance. Disability assistance programs help people with disabilities obtain the economic means to meet and sustain their basic needs. Disability assistance is designed to compensate for lower earnings and higher living expenses that people with disabilities often face, especially in low-income areas.

However, many disability assistance programs do not provide enough assistance to fully combat poverty or food insecurity. Proper funding and resources are necessary for disability assistance programs to succeed in addressing the link between food insecurity and disability.

Food Assistance

In contrast to disability assistance programs, USDA also advocates food assistance programs that are designed to provide food sources to people with disabilities. However, food assistance programs are only short-term solutions to food insecurity. These types of programs rarely protect people with disabilities from long-term poverty and food insecurity. People with disabilities often have difficulties making their way to food distributors, managing food resources and preparing food on their own. Food assistance programs typically do not address any of these issues. Therefore, in order to fully address the connection between food insecurity and disability, people with disabilities need equal access to long-term economic opportunities. Food assistance programs can help combat food insecurity, but cannot single-handedly address the problem.

Possible Solutions

In the long run, a combination of public and private disability and food assistance programs may be necessary to combat food insecurity among people with disabilities. Additionally, reforming education systems and workplaces to make them more accessible could allow many people with disabilities to pull themselves and their families out of poverty and food insecurity. Removing social and economic barriers is essential in the fight against food insecurity, especially for people with disabilities.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Unsplash

Disability and Poverty in RomaniaIn Romania, a former communist country in Southeastern Europe, the institutionalization of people with disabilities and orphans during Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime has had lasting consequences on the country — especially on the societal perception of people with disabilities. However, disability rights have advanced in recent years. While mental institutions are falling out of use in Romania, the government has not replaced them with other social structures to provide opportunities for people with disabilities, leaving this group without many options. As a result, disability and poverty in Romania are closely related, with 37.6% of Romanians with disabilities at risk of poverty in 2020. Thanks to NGO work and government initiatives, this percentage is significantly lower than it was a decade ago when it stood at 44.1%.

A History of Neglect

At the end of Ceaușescu’s rule in 1989, an estimated 100,000 children were in orphanages, a result of his pro-natalist policies, which banned abortion and contraception to stimulate population growth. During this time, many families abandoned their children because of poverty or disability and Romania still grapples with the grave repercussions of Ceaușsescu’s policies today.

According to World Without Orphans, more than 50,000 Romanian children are still in the social care system. Oftentimes, children who arrived healthy to the institutions later developed disabilities due to poor conditions within the orphanages and institutions. The vast majority of Romanian adults with disabilities live independently or under private care today. However, around 17,500 are still in public residential institutions. The deinstitutionalization process in Romania is slow and ongoing and the country is struggling to replace institutions with community-based initiatives to pull Romanians with disabilities out of poverty.

Employing People With Disabilities

People with disabilities who grew up in the Ceaușescu-era orphanages are now adults and can benefit from Romania’s membership in the European Union. The EU insisted that Romania reforms its orphanage system аs a condition to enter the Union. However, stigmas around disability remain and limit the progress Romania makes. Disability and poverty in Romania are serious problems, with some estimates placing the employment rate of the disabled as low as 17.97%, according to European Semester. In 2018, the European Semester found that around 45.5% of people with disabilities had a job, but organizations may be using different metrics to define disability and employment.

Many people with disabilities are capable of working. However, employers deny them jobs or only offer the lowest-paying jobs, leading many people with disabilities into poverty. According to Eurostat, 40.9% of Romanians with disabilities report facing “difficulty making ends meet” in comparison to 28.6% of the general population.

Disability and poverty in Romania also have close links because of accessibility issues in the country. Another challenge for Romanians with disabilities is a lack of accommodations in education and the workplace as well as poor, outdated infrastructure that limits their transportation in public spaces. According to the European Semester, there is little support for children with disabilities in the education system because teachers do not have disability training and schools do not have accessibility technologies. This contributes to high percentages of young people with disabilities dropping out of school early, which is a factor that increases poverty.

Romanian Laws

While Romanian laws protect people with disabilities against discriminating behaviors within the workplace, the implementation of these laws in practice is uncommon. While laws guarantee employment and accommodation in the workplace for people with disabilities, employers are often unwilling to hire people with impediments because of prejudice and a lack of understanding of how to better support people with disabilities. Some challenges that people with disabilities face within the workplace are a lack of flexible working hours, poor infrastructure and discrimination by coworkers.

In the last decade, the Romanian government has launched many national projects to tackle disability and poverty in Romania. The Romanian National Employment Agency is launching 13 projects worth €650 million with the support of European Union funding to stimulate the employment of people with disabilities, European Semester reports. Many of these projects, such as Employ, Don’t Assist, which hopes to employ people with Down syndrome, started in the last year, therefore, data on their success is not yet available.

Ophori Cosmetics

One project that has garnered much attention is a startup company, Ophori Cosmetics. Based in Brasov, Romania, Ophori Cosmetics is a producer of handmade and sustainable cosmetics. However, the company’s focus on environmental impact is not the only reason for the media attention it gains. The company is investing in the community by creating jobs for the most vulnerable and the entire production staff of Ophori Cosmetics consists of people with disabilities.

According to Bogdan Dimciu, an administrator at Ophori Cosmetics, the enterprise began as a workshop where people with disabilities created products for donation to the community, acquiring skills in the process to aid in their future success in the job market. The founders of Ophori then made a decision to turn the project into a company. All of the employees in Ophori’s production team earn fair wages and continue to receive training from volunteers and therapists to develop their skills.

Looking Ahead

Ophori Cosmetics’ success shows that the perception of people with disabilities in Romania is slowly changing. Small steps such as this can ensure that more people with disabilities secure employment, allowing them to contribute to the economy as productive members of society. While many people with disabilities rely on social benefits to survive, they often do not receive enough to lift them out of poverty. According to European Semester, the monthly allowance of 265 Romanian lei is not enough to make a significant impact on the quality of life of Romanians with disabilities, especially because this marginalized group can often only access the lowest-paying jobs.

Despite Romanian laws ensuring the rights of people with liabilities to employment, many employers are skeptical of hiring people with disabilities and do not know what support to offer. Disability and poverty in Romania are closely related due to a history of neglect and continuing stigmas around disability, but both private and public sectors are making progress.

– Emma Tkacz
Photo: Flickr

Tikkun Olam Makers
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15% of people worldwide, roughly 1 billion, live with a disability. An estimated 80% of those living with disabilities reside in developing countries where lack of accessibility serves as a barrier for getting through everyday life. Moreover, these physical obstacles can lead to both social and cultural hardships. Luckily, Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) is attempting to provide aid to disabled and low-income people.

Multidimensional Disabilities

While having a disability in itself can pose a challenge to individuals, there are other adversities as well. In developing countries, 90% of children with disabilities are not in school. In addition, women with disabilities often experience much higher rates of violence and abuse than women without impediments.

A 2004 study focused on girls and women with disabilities in India and showed that almost all had experienced physical abuse in their homes. Furthermore, 25% had experienced rape and 6% had undergone sterilization against their will. The fact that a mere 45 countries, primarily developed ones, have anti-discrimination and disability-specific laws has only made this reality worse. However, growing global movements have set out to change this status quo directed at the needs of minority communities.

Bringing New Technology to Age-Old Challenges

Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) is a global movement based out of Israel dedicated to seeking affordable solutions for individuals living with disabilities in lower-income communities. TOM recognizes the power of technology and views it as a tool to help all people achieve access to affordable solutions for their disabilities. Tikkun Olam Makers has instituted 605 projects and delivered more than 213,000 products since its start in 2014. Tikkun Olam Makers addresses the needs of minority communities through a multi-step process:

  1. Establish or Join a Community: The first stage is joining a community or establishing one if none exist in one’s surrounding area.
  2. Challenge: Once a community has undergone creation, individuals work to identify what TOM terms ‘Neglected Challenges’– specific needs of minority communities for which affordable market solutions do not yet exist. In tandem with identifying these challenges, communities pair up with ‘Need-Knowers’– people with specific understandings of these challenges.
  3. Prototyping: The next step is creating a prototype solution to the posed challenge. The ‘Makers’ of these issues can include anyone involved in collaborating on the solution design.
  4. Productizing: Once a prototype receives approval, groups proceed to productizing — the process of turning the digital prototype into a physical product. This step also includes the digital documentation and product transfer to the Tikkun Olam Makers website.
  5. Disseminating: Products undergo distribution to final end-users once completed. This distribution takes place via local ‘maker spaces’ that exist in a variety of academic institutions, community centers, large companies and more.

Tikkun Olam Makers Captures Global Attention

TOM’s work has reached thousands of people in need. In November 2021, the organization took part in its first Global Innovation Challenge in Dubai. The organization presented its disability solutions alongside 50 others from more than 15 countries. Three teams from Tikkun Olam Makers received grand prizes for their innovations. One of these included the Talker Mount, a mechanism for individuals with cerebral palsy to communicate independently via a tablet. In addition, one other group from TOM also received an honorable mention.

As another year approaches, Tikkun Olam Makers intends to continue creating solutions for those with disabilities. Through support from people across the globe and strong investments in a better future, Tikkun Olam Makers is paving the way for such inventions to become normalized necessities.

Chloé D’Hers
Photo: Flickr

Kimuli Fashionability
Kampala, Uganda generates 350,000 tons of waste every year, much of which goes uncollected. Sorting through glass, plastic and other trash is a dangerous job, but that does not stop Juliet Namujju from collecting waste for her sustainable clothing brand, Kimuli Fashionability, and teaching people with disabilities how to turn trash into treasure.

From Tragedy to Hope

Juliet Namujju’s father had his legs amputated after a terrible accident. Because of his disability, he was not able to find employment, lost hope and eventually died. At only 6 years old, Namujju became an orphan when her mother died shortly after. Her grandmother, a tailor with little income, took her in. Since her grandmother could not afford toys, she inspired Juliet to make and sew dolls using leftover fabric and waste. After high school, Namujju attended a fashion course and joined Social Innovation Academy, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth realize their full potential.

At 20 years old, she founded her sustainable clothing brand with the hope of employing and empowering the people of her village. Kimuli Fashionability was born out of ingenuity in an environment of poverty. Namujju’s mission is to simultaneously promote inclusivity by hiring people with disabilities while also limiting the out-of-control waste in Uganda.

The Brand

Kimuli is the Luganda word for “flower.” Namujju named her sustainable clothing brand “Kimuli Fashionability” because she takes the trash and turns it into something elegant, like a flower. Not only are her fashions flowering treasures, but her budding students make her business flourish. The sustainable clothing brand has trained at least 75 people with disabilities, and these new trainers are now teaching others. Kimuli Fashionability also contracts with 120 underserved adolescents to collect waste.

The company’s slogan is “waste is only waste if you waste it.” According to its website, Kimuli Fashionability transformed 33 tons of waste into more than 9,000 products to date, proving her slogan and solidifying her contributions to sustainability in Uganda.

The Product Line

Namujju and her team makes fashionable and affordable bags, raincoats, wallets and dresses using upcycled waste from disposal sites. One of Namujju’s most recent designs is a transparent face mask to help people with hearing loss communicate effectively in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Typical face masks cover the mouth with opaque material blocking people from reading lips. Because roughly half of Namujju’s staff is hearing impaired, she saw a need to design a mask that would alleviate the communication barrier. Her face mask design uses a clear, recycled plastic at the center of the mask. She has sold and donated more than 2,000 of these masks.

Upcycled sugar sacks and African fabric make up Kimuli Fashionability’s bright yellow and red rain jackets. The U.N. General Assembly in New York displayed them. The rain jackets also come in neutral colors and feature both children and adult sizes.

The brand also sells duffle bags made out of old cement bags with straps of colorful African fabric. It also sells earrings in different shapes made from vibrant and colorful recycled plastic.

An Inspirational Journey

Though Juliet Namujju creates lasting change in Kampala by employing people with disabilities at Kimuli Fashionability, many with disabilities are still impoverished in Uganda. These people count for over 12% of the population, and only 20% of them do not live in poverty. Namujju wants to continue growing her business and training more people with disabilities. By 2024, her goal is to train more than 1,000 people with disabilities and offer employment to at least half of them. She wants to expand her business and market her clothing in Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya. By 2025, she wants Kimuli Fashionability to own its own production and training center. Throughout, Namujju will continue to teach her fellow Ugandans to look at waste differently and recruit them to solve the waste problem in Uganda.

– Amy Helmendach
Photo: Flickr

PwDs in Kenya
The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated countries worldwide with illness, fear and economic instability. However, its impact has not been equal for everyone. The pandemic has affected persons with disabilities (PwDs) disproportionately. More than 15% of the global population are PwDs, 80% of whom live in developing countries. More than 2.2% (0.9 million people) of the population are PwDs in Kenya, according to the 2019 census.

Connection Between Poverty and Disability

There is undoubtedly a strong correlation between poverty and disability. According to The Aga Khan University, approximately 67% of PwDs in Kenya live in poverty. Before COVID-19, Kenyans living with disabilities already faced pre-existing challenges in accessing health care, education and the workforce. Now, these challenges are deeper than ever as a consequence of the measures to control the virus transmission and expansion, and their impact on the socio-economic aspects of life and service delivery.

Organizations and individuals all over the world have racked their brains to find innovative solutions that could make life easier again after COVID-19.  However, most of these organizations and individuals did not have PwDs in mind. This problem is not exclusive to the COVID-19 era. For persons with disabilities, especially in developing countries like Kenya, solutions and innovation itself are limited for most present-day challenges.

Concerned by this situation, UNDP in Kenya decided to launch an innovation challenge. It Is inviting solutions responding to the socio-economic challenges experienced by PwDs during the pandemic. This way, UNDP Kenya seeks to harness the power of innovation for disability inclusion and social cohesion to promote a stable and secure environment for PwDs to thrive.

UNDP invited registered Kenyan organizations or companies in order to provide those with disabilities access to education, employment and other opportunities. UNDP encouraged the applicants to focus on one of five different areas; Access to Technology, Access to Information, Access to Health Care, Access to Education, Access to Opportunities and Access to Financial Products/Services.

Submissions of applications emerged all over the country and after a rigorous evaluation process, UNDP selected five winners. The five winning organizations received a grant of $8,000 to assist in further development and scale-up of the solutions.

5 Innovative Solutions Improving the Lives of PwDs in Kenya

  1. Action for Children with Disabilities (ACD) – Action for Children with Disabilities (ACD) came up with a solution that tests the use of Virtual reality (VR) to support children with intellectual disabilities to learn. The organization aims to develop educational video tutorials for children with Autism Spectrum disorders. It also uses VR to create simulations on the challenges that PwDs face in their daily lives. It will use this to conduct community sensitization and awareness sessions with the community members.
  2. Kytabu – Kytabu began in 2012. Its goal is to enable African learning institutions and students to leverage education technology platforms by providing and integrating education content to PwDs. Kytabu’s innovative solution adds a mobile-based school management system to the institutions supporting deaf learners. It is helping them to track the learner’s progress and needs. It is also producing reports to share with stakeholders and partners. This data would likely lead to better decision-making in Special needs education’s resources.
  3. Riziki Source – Riziki is a social enterprise that seeks to connect PwDs in Kenya to job opportunities. It created an automatic job-seeking database of people with different kinds of disabilities looking for jobs. Users can download the mobile app and easily register to the platform through their website or by text message, in case they don’t have internet access. Thanks to the platform, employers can easily connect with PwDs seeking jobs and understand the best way to interview and work with PwDs.
  4. Signs Media Kenya – In 2011, Signs Media began with the mission to educate, inform and entertain in sign language by enhancing disability and deaf culture. Signs TV developed an app called “Assist All.” It allows deaf people to access sign language interpreters on demand, facilitating communication where it may not be available. The app counts with a sign language interpreters’ database accessible by the touch of a button through a virtual interface.
  5. The Action Foundation (TAF) – TAF is a youth-led organization that began in 2010. It works with communities and governments to help PwDs. It aims to launch the “Somesha Stories project,” a platform that enables accessible child-friendly stories for early literacy and inclusive education. Learners will be able to access educational content specifically designed for all persons at their schools, from the comfort of their homes and via the Somesha Mobile-Based App. The Somesha stories come in audio, visual, print and sign language formats, hence allowing every child to learn.

Looking Ahead

All these great solutions not only validate Kenya as a hub of knowledge and innovation, but they also show technological transformation is about improving each citizen’s experience, leaving no one behind.

Innovation has and definitely will continue to have a great role in Kenya’s response and recovery to the COVID-19 crisis. Investing in building solutions that can improve the lives of PwDs represents a massive opportunity for Kenya to ensure that its growth is genuinely inclusive and transformational, something crucial for the future of the country.

– Alejandra del Carmen Jimeno
Photo: Flickr