The Link Between Poverty and Tourette’s SyndromeGlobally, one in every 100 people lives with Tourette’s Syndrome. This is a neurological disability categorized by having one or more vocal tics or repetitive sounds an individual makes and cannot control. Some tics can be as simple as blinking and grunting while some individuals live with more complex tics. In order to be diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome (TS), the individual must start displaying their tics before they turn 18. People who have Tourette’s Syndrome cannot help the movements or noises that they make, and they can become even worse when under stress. Poverty and Tourette’s Syndrome make life much more difficult because higher stress levels have more of an impact on individuals with TS.

Poverty and Tourette’s Syndrome

A recent study showed that individuals with TS experience more psychological stress than individuals without. Poverty, which is already a stressful factor, has a more negative effect on individuals with the disorder. This study showed high amounts of psychological stress eventually lead to severe depression as well as an increase in tics and their severity. This is often seen in individuals facing both poverty and Tourette’s Syndrome. Limited access to medical care and the stress caused by their financial situation are ultimately making their condition worse.

Individuals with Tourette’s Syndrome struggle with finding jobs. According to the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs Disability, 80 to 90 percent of the disabled population in developing nation’s is unemployed. In Asian and Pacific countries, there are 370 million disabled individuals. Statistically speaking around three million of those people will have Tourette’s Syndrome. Being unable to find work only exacerbates the situation and continues the cycle of poverty and stress.

Access to Medical Care

Many impoverished areas lack access to proper medical care. Many developing countries have very limited access to hospitals and doctors’ offices. Much of the resources offered by nonprofits and NGOs are equipped to help with HIV/AIDS support and common illnesses. They do not have the equipment needed to support and treat individuals with Tourette’s Syndrome.

Furthermore, people below the poverty line cannot afford medication. Impoverished people make up nearly 70 percent of the uninsured population. So, when they need medications for disorders such as Tourette Syndrome, they have to pay out of pocket. For many families facing poverty and Tourette’s Syndrome the medicine is out of their price range and not a top priority. The most common medication used to treat TS is risperidone. Without insurance, the retail price can be anywhere from $20 to almost $90 for 30 tablets depending on the dose, making it a monthly expense that some people cannot afford.

For some people, medicine does not help control their tics. Instead, they benefit from a therapy treatment called CBIT. Short for Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics, CBIT is a type of behavioral treatment that helps individuals develop actions known as competing responses to help either slow or reduce their tics and severity. More severe cases of TS might need deep brain stimulation. This is a surgical procedure where an electrode is implanted in the brain and sends shocks to alter the activity of the brain’s circuits, essentially restarting them and decreasing the tics. As of 2019, however, these treatments are only offered in the United States.

Organizations Helping with Tourette’s Syndrome

One organization assisting with TS globally is the Tourette’s Association of America. The website has access to research, resources, support, advocacy and webinars. Another organization is Tourette’s Around the World. It is a U.K. based website that provides links to all of the global websites that help and support individuals with TS. On the website, there are links to websites from more than 20 countries that provide information on support and treatment in those areas. However, there are no websites specifically addressing poverty and Tourette’s Syndrome.

Contrary to what is shown in the media, Tourette’s Syndrome is not an uncommon disorder. With exceptions to extreme cases, it does not inhibit a person’s ability to work. Because of this negative media portrayal many people with TS struggle to find work. This contributes to global poverty and leaves individuals without access to basic necessities or proper medical treatments and medicines. Although there are organizations working towards ending the negative stigma, negative media portrayals are still inhibiting individuals and leaving them excluded from the workforce, creating a link between poverty and Tourette’s Syndrome.

Destinee Smethers
Photo: Flickr

, Autism Treatment in South Africa
Autism is a developmental disorder, which typically develops at a young age and can greatly impair one’s social skills. People with autism often have difficulties communicating, differentiating between appropriate and inappropriate behavior and directly interacting with others. There is a spectrum associated with the disorder that correlates with the severity of a person’s behavior; ranging from high functioning and extremely intelligent to low functioning and nonverbal. Autism affects people regardless of where they live, their ethnic background or their socioeconomic class. While it is approximated that only 1 to 2 percent of the population has this developmental disorder, autism treatment in South Africa is becoming increasingly prevalent as the rate of diagnosis is rising.

Autism in South Africa

Within the secluded, underdeveloped regions of South Africa, medical care can often be difficult to come by, including diagnoses. However, it has been estimated that the diagnosis of developmental disabilities, including autism, has increased 70 percent in South Africa in less than 30 years. This is in direct correlation with medical care becoming more readily available in areas where it had never been before.

The disparities within the health care system are even more notable in populations that are already vulnerable, which includes the majority of the communities in South Africa. Young children on the spectrum rarely receive support or services largely due to a lack of access.

Autism Treatment in South Africa

Research has shown that occupational and speech therapy services are integral for autistic individuals. As a result, autism treatment programs have begun popping up and are providing different modes of treatment. These include advocating for children with the disorder to receive Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and other methods that promote inclusivity. The following organizations are all committed to autism treatment in South Africa.

  1. The Centre for Autism Research in Africa: The leading autism clinical research program in South Africa, this center is based in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Cape Town. The center’s research is founded upon three basic principles: clinical research through screenings and diagnosis, teaching and training of those diagnosed and their families as well as the community and advocating for the rights of those with autism. Recognizing the crucial role technology can play in improving the lives of the underprivileged autistic community in South Africa, the center uses technology, including stimming apps and noise-canceling headphones, in its work.
  2. The Star Academy: The Star Academy, alternately known as the Centre for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc, is an exemplary institution that supports individuals with autism and their families. Centers that offer this support are located throughout South Africa, in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban. Star Academy’s motto is “Recovery is Possible,” and while the organization don’t promote the concept that autism is reversible, significant gains are very possible. Research has shown that those who start intervention at a younger age are able to benefit most from intensive applied behavior analysis therapy, one of the most common treatments for autism. The organization also incorporates PROMPT Instruction therapy, which is a holistic approach that focuses on developing or regulating speech. These improvements are most evident through increased academic performances, and in some cases, have resulted in physicians diagnosing children as no longer being on the spectrum.
  3. Autism South Africa: Autism South Africa is another organization that is greatly benefiting the autistic community. Adding a different perspective to autism treatment in South Africa, Autism South Africa promotes the diversity that every autistic child brings to the community and works to empower them. The organization also has a strong partnership with the Centre for Autism Research in Africa, which provides data on autism in the country. The four pillars of the organization are parent empowerment, advocacy, lobbying and training. Each step of the diagnosis has a holistic focus, and the organization is working to ensure the autistic population has a bright future.

With autism diagnosis being on the rise in many underdeveloped communities, it is encouraging to see organizations and programs that are focused on assisting the developmentally challenged through a variety of methods. Moving forward, autism treatment in South Africa must continue to be a priority for these organizations and others.

Joanna Buoniconti
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cancer Detection in Colombia

Breast cancer, the leading type of cancer in women worldwide, affects more than 2 million women each year. In 2018 alone, 625,000 women died from breast cancer. According to the World Bank, although developed regions have higher rates of breast cancer compared to developing areas, rates are increasing in nearly every region across the globe. When looking at breast cancer survival rates, one thing is certain: early detection is key to lowering death rates and so early breast cancer detection in Colombia is changing.

A Possible Solution

With more than 13,000 new cases of breast cancer in 2018 alone, Colombian officials have been focusing on initiatives that target early detection. By launching a pilot program through Discovering Hands, an organization founded in Germany that empowers blind women with a heightened sense of touch to feel for breast cancer, early detection is exactly what Colombia focuses on.

Breast mammography, or a mammogram as it is known colloquially, is sometimes too expensive for women in developing countries. Additionally, they are only available to women in Colombia who are over 50 years of age. Instead of solely using the traditional method of breast cancer detection, the mammogram, Colombia borrowed from Discovering Hands. The country put visually impaired women to work as medical tactile examiners feeling for breast cancer. The surgeon who coordinates the Discovering Hands project in Colombia, Dr. Luis Alberto Olave, said of the program: “They [MTEs] have this gift in their fingers. If they are trained, their disability can become a talent, a strength, and can be used to help other people. Nodules are the first cancer symptom. The faster we find them, the faster we will have any impact on the projection of the illness, and that may mean saving lives.”

Results

Currently, in Latin America, only three visually impaired women work as medical tactile examiners, using their delicate sense of touch for early cancer detection in Colombia. These women have been proven to detect 30 percent more tissue variations in breast tissue than medically trained doctors. The Discovering Hands method is less expensive, more accurate and can find lumps that are 50 percent smaller than ones found by doctors. Additionally, some women in Colombia have expressed that they feel more comfortable going to women to have this examination performed versus male doctors.

These medical tactile examiners do not diagnose patients, rather they do an examination, then help set up an appointment with the doctor if they find any irregularities. This method of early cancer detection in Colombia is not only saving lives by early diagnosis of breast cancer, but it is also creating a fulfilling job for the visually impaired. As female patients are starting to flock to these medical tactile examiners, Colombia discussed expanding the program to provide more jobs for blind women. This would give more low-income women in Colombia access to breast cancer screening.

A Global Answer

Discovering Hands is currently in seven countries: Colombia, Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, Spain, Austria and India, and already performed over 10,000 exams. As the model continues to succeed in helping women with early breast cancer detection as well as giving fulfilling jobs to blind women, Discovering Hands is discussing repeating the business model in new countries. This program is unique in that it gives to the community while also providing a living for women who previously could not contribute to society. As breast cancer rates continue to grow, Discovering Hands is doing its part to lower the fatality rate of breast cancer.

– Kathryn Moffet
Photo: Pexels

Women with Disabilities in Uganda
Four out of every 25 people in Uganda have a disability, meaning that roughly seven million people are suffering from a disability. Women with disabilities in Uganda face lives of abuse, fear and longterm poverty, such as employers excluding them from employment opportunities, communities harassing them and the state neglecting them. Send a Cow’s program, Agriculture for Women with Disabilities Activity (AWDA), is giving women with disabilities in Uganda the resources they need to build hopeful futures.

A History of Disability in Uganda

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 15 percent of the global population are persons with disabilities (PWD), with that number rising drastically for people living in poverty and for post-conflict countries. Since the late 1980s, Uganda has endured multiple civil wars and violent conflicts, primarily against the Lord’s Resistance Army in the north. Not surprisingly, the incidence rate of disabilities is highest in Northern Uganda, with the region reporting over 16 percent of its population suffering from disabilities compared to only 12.5 percent in other regions. This history of conflict coupled with poverty has left a population suffering from loss and limited use of limbs, hearing difficulties and malnutrition-related disabilities like stunting and learning difficulties.

Trapped in Poverty

With very little access to education, suitable housing or employment, roughly 80 percent of disabled people in Uganda live in conditions of longterm poverty. The situation is even worse for women with disabilities in Uganda. As one of the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups in the country, disabled women in Uganda not only struggle to survive financially but their communities often ostracize them, their families do not always support them and they often endure frequent abuse and discrimination from strangers and neighbors.

One woman with a disability from Northern Uganda shared with Human Rights Watch that her community told her, “You are useless. You are a waste of food. You should just die so that others can eat the food.”

This type of discrimination coupled with gender inequality keeps women with disabilities in Uganda from understanding their basic rights, gaining the skills and education necessary to get jobs and from accessing resources like land for agricultural production.

The Importance of Agriculture

The number of people living in poverty in Uganda has dropped substantially over the last fifteen years, with only 21.4 percent in poverty in 2016 compared to over 31 percent in 2005. The World Bank reports agriculture is to thank for this progress, with 79 percent of national poverty reduction occurring in households working in agriculture.

Knowing the critical role agriculture plays in lifting people out of poverty in Uganda, Send a Cow, a U.K.-based organization that works throughout Africa to end rural poverty by helping people grow their own futures “on their own land, on their own terms,” launched the Agriculture for Women with Disabilities Activities project (AWDA) in Uganda in 2016. With roughly 80 percent of women with disabilities in Uganda unemployed and the majority suffering from discrimination and abuse, Send a Cow designed its program to not only give women with disabilities the skills and resources they need to access land and grow food but also teach them about their rights and give them the training and confidence they need to occupy places in their communities.

“One of the major benefits of AWDA is being trained in our rights as people with disabilities. We are confident and know that we are people and can achieve whatever we set ourselves to,” shares Alice, a 47-year-old partially blinded woman from Luuka District, Uganda.

AWDA’s Impact

“We were people nobody bothered about. Now we are very happy! As people with disabilities, others thought we couldn’t dig, but Send a Cow believed in us and gave us knowledge. I can crawl and dig!” ~ Joy Nabirye (45)

Before Send a Cow’s AWDA program, Joy Nabirye, who cannot use her legs, let the community’s views of women with disabilities dictate her life. Now, thanks to AWDA, she knows the unique capabilities she possesses as a woman with disabilities and is able to work her own land, providing for herself and her family. Joy also uses the AWDA training to teach other women and farmers in Uganda about agriculture and disabilities.

“I am chair of the sub county – an instructor on disability issues and I spoke at council level with officials. This community needs more enlightenment on disability – other farmers need to know about the issues,” she shares.

Send a Cow projects that AWDA will help 1,500 women and girls with disabilities. This will happen by women gaining access to land and increasing their income, while also creating a much larger impact through the formation of community groups and teaching rural communities about gender, land and human rights.

– Sarah Musick
Photo: Flickr

Disabilities in Liberia

Liberia is a West African country comprised of 4.98 million people. Exact statistics about disability in Liberia are out of date but according to a UNICEF study from 1997, 16 percent of the population has a disability. Of that 16 percent, 61 percent struggle with mobility, 24 percent are visually impaired, seven percent are deaf and eight percent have an intellectual or psychosocial disability. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), estimated in 2014 that due to the devastating civil war that ended in 2003 and the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the population of people with disabilities in Liberia is likely closer to 20 percent.

Background

People with disabilities tend to be marginalized, stigmatized and excluded from education, skills training and income-generating opportunities. Because they have a limited voice in politics and society, their issues are not included in national policies, especially in poverty reduction initiatives causing their living conditions to continue to deteriorate in a “vicious cycle”. According to SIDA, 99 percent of people with disabilities in Liberia live in extreme poverty.

Liberia is taking steps to improve the lives of those living with disabilities. In 2012, the nation signed and ratified the U.N. Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as other treaties that reference the rights of people with disabilities like the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It also formed a national commission on disability and is reviewing its constitution to address the rights of people with disabilities. While the country is working to improve their rights and conditions, there is still much to be done. The lives and health of people with disabilities in Liberia can be improved in three key-ways: education, mental health and job opportunities.

Education

One important tool for lifting people out of poverty is education. The Liberian government has free and compulsory education for children but students with disabilities are often left behind. In 2009, even though an estimated 92,000 of 600,000 school-age children have disabilities, only four percent was allocated for children with disabilities. While there are schools for the visually impaired and the hearing impaired, they mostly reach a small urban population. Rural areas are lacking in resources for their students with disabilities.

There are, however, organizations working to improve access to education. AIFO-Liberia, for example, is working to ensure that people affected by leprosy can receive their educations, largely through a Community Based Rehabilitation strategy.

Mental Health

The Liberian people have been through much in the past 50 years. Approximately 40 percent of its citizens suffer from post-traumatic disorder from the civil war and there is only one practicing psychiatrist in the country. While not all people with disabilities have a mental illness, mental illness itself can become a disability. Those who have mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression are often stigmatized as witches.

The Carter Foundation is working to train 450 mental health professionals and create an anti-stigma campaign to improve understanding of mental illnesses. Meanwhile, AIFO-Liberia implemented a program that provides psychosocial support for those affected by the Ebola virus in addition to a destigmatizing campaign to improve mental health.

Job Opportunities

People with disabilities in Liberia are often excluded from job skills training, work, and income-generating opportunities. While the Liberian government and activists are working to put accommodation and anti-discrimination laws on the books, disability is often seen as divine retribution for a person’s misdeeds. Organizations like AIFO-Liberia have implemented a startup project that will increase job opportunities and improve social inclusiveness. Ending the social stigma, working to improve health care access and workplace accommodations, will help lift people with disabilities in Liberia out of poverty.

While the country has made great legislative strides in signing on to international commitments and in creating legislation, it still has a long way to go in improving the state of people with disabilities in Liberia. The stigma around these conditions prevents people with disabilities from having a voice and escaping extreme poverty. With the help of activists, NGO’s, and the Liberian government, the lives of people with disabilities can be improved.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

Eight Facts About Education in Tanzania
After gaining independence in 1961, Tanzania’s government sought an advanced society for its population. The government’s attempt to grow a stable economy overlooked the estimated 85 percent illiteracy among its people. As a country with one of the largest young populations, these eight facts about education in Tanzania demonstrate how improvements to education have become a primary interest in public policy.

8 Facts About Education in Tanzania

  1. It is estimated that 5.1 million children between the ages of 7 and 17 are not in school. Primary school enrollment reached its peak of 86 percent in 2016, and in that same year, lower-secondary level school enrollment plummeted to a low of 33.4 percent. Many Tanzanian children do not experience a secondary education or vocational training. This leads to many children accepting jobs in hazardous conditions against the Tanzanian Law of the Child Act, which strictly defines and regulates prohibited tasks for children. Due to lack of enforcement of this act, 29.3 percent of children between the ages of five and 14 work in unsafe conditions in fields such as mining, quarrying and domestic work.
  2. The average yearly cost of an education in Tanzania totals 100,000 Tanzanian Shillings (TZS). This cost is equal to $50. However, with a national average salary of $22,662, many families cannot afford the fees that accompany their children’s education. These eight facts about education in Tanzania vividly depict poverty’s crucial role in receiving access to education. As of 2016, the poverty rate decreased to 26.8 percent, but an estimated 29 percent of students still live in households below the poverty line. In addition to school fees, parents must pay for uniforms, books and possibly transportation. Public secondary schools offer cheaper tuition as opposed to private schools, but additional schools fees can total up to $300 a year.
  3. Transportation to secondary school persists as an ongoing issue for millions of Tanzanian adolescents. Most of Tanzania’s population remains condensed in rural areas far away from secondary schools. Six people riding on one motorcycle to school lingers as a common image in some of these communities. Some students are able to receive housing at a boarding facility or private hostel by a school, while poorer families simply cannot make such sacrifice. This forces some students to walk or bicycle 20-25 kilometers, which usually takes more than an hour. Organizations such as The Tanzanian Education Fund (TEF), work with a board of organizational officers to manage the financial income for schools, review each school’s progress and fundraise for each school’s ongoing success. The TEF ensures that more than 465 students attending the Nianjema secondary schools in Bagamoyo, Tanzania have school buses through countless fundraising events.
  4. Adolescent girls in Tanzania are least likely to receive a secondary education. Research estimates that two out of every five girls in Tanzania marry before the age of 18. Within the population of married, secondary-school age girls, 97 percent are not in school due to marriage or pregnancy. Government policies also discriminate against pregnant and married girls by authorizing schools to expel them. Tanzania’s education regulations permit the expulsion of students when a student has committed what it considers an offense against morality. Many girls in Tanzania yearn to go back to school but encounter discriminating barriers like repeatedly contacting the school headmaster with no response. In addition, they must pay an $18-23 re-entry fee after pregnancy which ultimately deters them from returning.
  5. In 2010, Tanzania issued the Persons with Disabilities Act which guarantees the right to education and training services to children with disabilities. Today, disabled children still encounter barriers to attending primary school, and even fewer attend secondary school. Enrollment rates for disabled children dropped from 5,495 students to 5,328 students in 2013. Out of the 3,601 public secondary schools in Tanzania, only 75 schools accommodate children that require special needs education. Most of the students with disabilities do not have access to assistive devices like a wheelchair, cane or hearing aid. In other cases, few teachers receive training to teach children with learning disabilities. ADD International operates to fight global discrimination by influencing governments for change so every disabled person gets the best quality of life. Since partnering with Tanzanian activists in 2012, ADD International helped 1,404 children with disabilities enroll in primary school.
  6. The Primary School Learning Examination (PSLE) prevents 1.6 million students from entering secondary school each year. The average completion rate for primary students is 58.4 percent whereas fewer than 52 percent complete secondary school. Many of the schools in Tanzania do not prepare their students adequately for the national exam due to a lack of resources and poor student to teacher ratios. The average student to teacher ratio remains 59:1. Students in Tanzania receive only one opportunity to pass the exam as well.
  7. In 2015, the Tanzanian government eliminated the school fees required for all lower-secondary schools. The implementation of this practice emerged from Tanzania’s 2014 Education and Training policy which aims to improve the overall quality of education in Tanzania. As a result of the policy, secondary school enrollment in Tanzania has increased to 31.6 percent. The Tanzanian government’s goal to become a middle-income country by 2025 began with this significant change. The Tanzanian government made a commitment to provide free, compulsory basic education. This commitment coincided with a 12-year plan and a grant from The Global Partnership for Education (GPE)to strengthen its education system. By continuing to provide free education, skills in literacy and numeracy in Tanzania have improved exceptionally.
  8. By collaborating with the Tanzanian government, Project Concern International (PCI) makes strides in improving the infrastructure of countless schools in Tanzania. The organization, PCI, aids in lifting communities around the world out of poverty by enhancing health and ending world hunger. Studies show that only 62 percent of schools in Tanzania provide an improved water source. Eighty-four percent of the 2,697 primary schools in Tanzania goes without handwashing facilities. These conditions create an unsanitary environment for children and make them more susceptible to diseases like dysentery, diarrhea or an acute respiratory infection. Since 2011, PCI installed 191 water systems in primary schools, giving an estimated 103,456 students improved latrines.

In the end, these eight facts about education in Tanzania are improving with support from global organizations. Bringing attention to the government policies that restrict marginalized groups of students from receiving an education can commence change. Tanzania will experience sustained development as long as the government invests in its education system.

– Nia Coleman
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Disabilities in Nigeria
Out of Nigeria’s estimated population of 200 million, approximately 27 million people live with disabilities. A 2005 study by the Leprosy Mission Nigeria found that, of its 1,093 respondents, 37 percent struggled with visual impairments, 32 percent had limited mobility, 15 percent had reduced hearing and the majority of people surveyed—61 percent—were unemployed because of their disability. People with disabilities in Nigeria typically receive little support from the government and instead rely on family members, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious groups. One of their biggest obstacles is the stigma surrounding their disabilities, which excludes them socially, economically and politically.

Often, families treat people with disabilities in Nigeria as a secret shame, and work and education exclude them. In extreme cases, their families abandon them or, if the family is wealthy, they institutionalize them. The Leprosy Mission Nigeria found in its survey that 16 percent of its participants survived by begging.

The Stigma Surrounding Disabilities

Tobiloba Ajayi, a lawyer and cerebral palsy activist born with CP, regularly faces questions and judgments about her mental faculties. She told Bright Magazine that, in a university pre-admission interview, “They said, ‘Really, I don’t think you’ll survive the semester.’ I remember looking [them] in the face and saying, ‘Watch me.’” She graduated five years later with a law degree.

Activists with disabilities in Nigeria like Ajayi are working to fight the stigma by changing the public perception of people with disabilities. Often, people treat them as “one-dimensional charity cases” rather than empowered people with their own needs. Ajayi helped make history by being one the lawyers to draft the state of Lagos’Special Peoples Law, which criminalized discrimination against people with disabilities and required that state-owned buildings and large buses be wheelchair accessible. When enacted in 2011, Lagos became the first state in Nigeria to pass a disability protection law. While this law helps increase accessibility for people with disabilities in Nigeria, inaccessibility still leaves many out.

Accessibility

According to Leprosy Mission Nigeria, 70 percent of the participants lacked access to disability-specific health care. Social agencies in Nigeria often receive limited funding partly because of the prevailing belief that the government should take a hands-off approach to let the country grow. The lack of funding and manpower means that these social agencies cannot access rural areas where the most vulnerable population lives.

In addition to a lack of medical care, people with disabilities in Nigeria often struggle with finding accommodations. Cobhams Asuquo, a blind singer, songwriter and producer, often struggled with finding braille reading material. In college, the braille textbooks were expensive and hard to come by. He told Bright Magazine, “As a nation we’re missing out on the value [people with disabilities] can add, just because we’re not creating an enabling environment for them to thrive.”

For the past several years, activists have been working tirelessly to pass the Nigeria Disability Act. In January 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed it into law after two chambers of the National Assembly passed it. To ensure that Nigeria enacts this law effectively, Sightsavers Nigeria has petitioned the U.N. to uphold the rights of people with disabilities.

While Nigeria has a way to go to give people with disabilities equal opportunity, the passage of this law is a great start. By increasing access and protection, people with disabilities in Nigeria can have a greater voice in politics, education and the economy.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

Disabled Persons in VietnamIn Vietnam, 5.8 percent of the population is considered disabled. For a country home to 95 million individuals, this equates to more than 5.2 million people. Often, those with disabilities face circumstances that challenge their quality of life, such as limited access to education, fewer work opportunities and difficulty with transportation and self-care. This article discusses three ways quality of life is improving for disabled persons in Vietnam.

USAID Assistance

Assisting disabled persons in Vietnam has been a top priority of USAID since the 1990s. Since then, the nation has made great progress in establishing equal rights for disabled people, whether their disability is classified as visual, auditory, mobile, speech-based or cognitive. The U.S. government has allocated more than $100 million to the disabled population and 30,000 individuals have received direct hands-on assistance, including vocational training, independent living assistance and job training. Several laws and amendments have been passed, all designed to improve the quality of life among the disabled population, including:

  • 2001: Amendment to the Constitution of Vietnam
  • 2006: Vocational Training Law
  • 2010: National Law on Persons with Disabilities
  • 2012: National Action Plan to Support People with Disabilities

The 2017 USAID report breaks down the types of assistance offered and the impact they have had. Over the course of the year, the organization met a variety of policy milestones, including the development of city construction projects to improve transportation and create sustainable housing for families. More than 9,000 people with disabilities received direct assistance, increasing the number of people with access to services by 29 times. As a prevention tactic, 62,000 children between the ages of one and six were screened for signs of future development of disabilities. In the towns of Binh Phuoc and Tay Ninh, 17 rehabilitation units were set up and provided training for medical professionals.

While the 2018 report has not been released yet, USAID is carrying out a number of additional projects, with completion goals set in 2020. Among those is the Accessibility for Inclusion Project, a mission designed to not only raise awareness regarding basic rights of those with disabilities but to increase access to public buildings, ultimately expanding their social and physical capabilities. By the time the project is completed in 2020, research projects that at least 1,800 people will receive formal training to advocate for physical accessibility, and approximately 50,000 people with disabilities in Vietnam will have improved accessibility rights.

Global Disability Rights Now: The Impact

The Global Disability Rights Now! organization is focused on enforcing 10 specific disability rights in impoverished countries, ultimately putting an end to discrimination based on capability. Some of the principles include creating reasonable accommodations, changing the concept of defining disability and encouraging full participation in society. Global Disability Rights Now! carries out projects in Armenia, Guatemala, Kenya, Vietnam, Mexico and Peru.

One of the most successful projects to improve the lives of disabled persons in Vietnam was the mission to move towards disability inclusion in employment, a program that provided Disability Equality Training (DET) to the non-disabled community. It was designed to raise awareness towards potential barriers in employment that the disabled community in Vietnam face and to provide them with the resources they need to understand how to treat them as equals.

U.S. and Vietnam Partnership

On April 20, 2019, the USAID signed a memorandum of intent that was designed to drastically improve the quality of life for disabled persons in Vietnam. Specifically, the memorandum targeted seven Vietnamese provinces, including Quang Tri, Hue, Quang Nam, Binh Dinh, Dong Nai, Binh Phuoc and Tay Ninh. It is working to provide direct care to disabled individuals, along with expanding rehabilitation centers and developing community-level social services. USAID showed its support for those living with disabilities through celebrating Vietnam’s National Disability Day on April 18, 2019. More than 600 participants attended the “Run For Persons with Disabilities – No Distance, no Limitation” event, both with and without disabilities.

Although living conditions are still not ideal for individuals with disabilities in Vietnam, the programs and advocacy efforts being put in place by USAID are projected to drastically improve their lives. Efforts such as DET and the Accessibility for Inclusion Project are being implemented to equalize the two demographics, and in doing so, the nation expects to see an increase in opportunities and fair treatment among the disabled population in Vietnam by 2020.

– Anna Lagattuta
Photo: Flickr

disabilities in Senegal

Senegal has the fourth largest economy in the western region of Africa. However, half of Senegal’s population still lives in extreme poverty. Due to the limited disability services provided by Senegal’s government, the barriers that people are encountering under poverty are amplified for Senegalese people who have a disability. Efforts towards improving disability services in Senegal are currently focusing on accessibility within education and economic inclusion.

Improving Educational Opportunities

Children with disabilities often miss out on quality education due to a lack of accessibility services. It is estimated that, in West Africa, one in four children with a disability does not attend school. Many organizations are working to improve the education system in Senegal to make it more accessible for people with disabilities. One organization is Sightsavers Senegal.

There are 700,000 people in Senegal who have a visual impairment, which includes thousands of children. Sightsavers Senegal started a pilot program in order to address the large number of visually impaired students who are excluded from the education system in Dakar. The program began in 2011, and by 2016, 187 students with visual impairments were enrolled in three different schools.

Sightsavers was able to provide scholarships to students along with textbooks that had been translated into braille. Facilities and technology were also adapted in order to accommodate students with a visual impairment. Sightsavers was able to collaborate with Senegal’s Ministry of Education to provide resources and training for students and educators to include more inclusive learning spaces for children with visual impairments.

The success of this pilot program provided incentives to the Senegalese government to uphold the program and work towards expansion nationwide. This budget has allowed for the addition of assistive facilities and learning resources in two more regions in Senegal.

Improving Economic Inclusion

Gaining economic independence and success is often difficult for individuals with disabilities. Job training and matching are challenging when services aren’t available to facilitate the movement of people with disabilities into the workforce. Senegal enforces a minimum access quota to provide employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities in both private and public sector jobs. These quotas minimize the number of people out of work due to a disability. The Ministry of Civil Service, Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Technical and Vocational Training are in charge of implementing and enforcing the quota.

In Senegal, Humanity & Inclusion’s “EMPHAS” Project is working to provide training and services to help individuals with disabilities work towards economic security. Their focus has mainly been pointed towards women and young people who have disabilities. Humanity & Inclusion focuses not only on the technical training side of job fields but also advocates for accessible facilities. At least 500 adults and 90 public and private employers have benefited from the implementation of EMPHAS.

In March 2019, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, under the U.N., assessed the efforts being made towards improving disability services in Senegal. The committee identified areas where more intervention can be made, such as more vocational training and a focus on the implementation of services. Although there is still a portion of the disabled community in Senegal experiencing exclusion, resource allocation and a focus on making facilities more accessible have contributed to improving disability services in Senegal.

Claire Bryan

Photo: Flickr

Nicaraguans with Disabilities

After seven years in Granada, Nicaragua, this January, the Cafe de las Sonrisas set up shop in the capital city of Managua. Also known as the “Cafe of Smiles, ” the little restaurant was a popular tourist destination in Granada, partly because of its atmosphere but also its unique staff of Nicaraguans with disabilities. Customers sat down to lunch in a large, airy room with hammocks hanging from the ceiling—courtesy of the hammock factory next door.

The menu presents simple Nicaraguan meals in Spanish and sign language. Posters on the walls also display some words in sign language customers might need to know: hello, goodbye, yes, no and thank you. Aside from an interesting lesson in linguistics, these posters provide a means of communicating with the cafe’s staff, all of whom are deaf and/or mute. That’s where the Cafe de las Sonrisas gets its name, according to the owner. In the absence of the spoken word, the main language of the restaurant is sign language and smiles.

Founding the Tio Antonio Social Center

The cafe—the first cafe in the Americas to employ only people who deaf and/or mute—is the brainchild of Antonio Prieto Brunel, also known as Tio Antonio. A native of Spain, Brunel moved to Nicaragua 13 years ago. After seeing the predicament of people who are deaf in Nicaragua, Brunel set out to make a difference.

As a result, he built the Tio Antonio Social Center, a nongovernmental organization that provides employment for people with disabilities. The Social Center also consists of a hammock shop, which employs young people with various disabilities. Meanwhile, the other half of the Social Center is the Cafe de las Sonrisas.

Living with Disabilities in Nicaragua

For people like the hammock makers and cafe staff, such opportunities are hard to come by. Nicaragua has always been a difficult place for people with disabilities. As recently as the 2000s, people with disabilities were treated as less than human, both by society and their families. Many were hidden from the public by their families for the majority of their lives. And, the abuse of people with disabilities was swept under the rug. In some cases, people with physical or intellectual disabilities were even kept in cages. While such abuses are almost unheard of now, there are stories of people with disabilities being kept in cages from less than 20 years ago.

To make matters worse, Nicaraguans with disabilities lacked access to any sort of public support system. Such a system would allow them to adapt to society or advocate for themselves. Instead, in the 1980s, the first schools for people who are deaf in Nicaragua were built. Before that, many Nicaraguans who are deaf lived in isolation. This was not only due to societal stigma but also the lack of community. In fact, Nicaraguan Sign Language was not developed until the schools began bringing children who are deaf together.

Improving Circumstances in Nicaragua

Since then, social progress for people with disabilities in Nicaragua has been slow but steady. While the government has built “special schools” for children with disabilities, these schools are chronically underfunded and understaffed. In addition, youth with disabilities frequently lack social support from their families. Seventy percent of children with disabilities in Nicaragua grow up without their fathers. Frequently, the birth of a child with disabilities results in the father abandoning the family. In addition, due to the stigma surrounding disability, 90 percent of Nicaraguans with disabilities are unemployed.

Without employment, many adults with disabilities are forced to depend on their families for most of their lives. Those without families, or without family members willing to support a relative with disabilities, often end up on the streets.

Employing Nicaraguans with Disabilities

Thanks to the hammock factory and the cafe, Brunel’s employees have been able to avoid such fate. Along with providing employment, the Tio Antonio Social Center prepares its workers for other jobs by teaching them career skills. Ultimately, its goal is to allow the Nicaraguan youth with disabilities to have the freedom that older generations with disabilities were denied. Equipped with gainful employment and career skills, Brunel’s employees have the opportunity to support themselves, which means that they can avoid being dependent on their families like many Nicaraguans with disabilities.

Plus, the Cafe de las Sonrisas is aiding the deaf community of Nicaragua in more ways than one. By having customers communicate with their waiters in Nicaraguan Sign Language, the cafe helps spread knowledge of NSL among the general public. Furthermore, all of the staff members being deaf and/or mute, in a business as public as the cafe, allows them to be visible to society in a way that most Nicaraguans with disabilities are not.

By allowing this visibility, the Cafe de las Sonrisas helps to combat stereotypes about Nicaraguans with disabilities. In a country where they are often ignored or mistreated and where it is nearly impossible to get a job and support themselves, the staff of the Cafe de las Sonrisas provides living proof that people with disabilities are capable of supporting themselves and contributing to society.

Keira Charles
Photo: connact global