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Why is Disability in Africa Increasing?

The World Report on Disability estimates that 15 percent of the world population lives with disabilities. The disabled are the world’s most underprivileged minority, and are considered the poorest of the poor.

Disability in Africa is very high, with approximately 80 million African people living with disabilities, according to the United Nations.

It is believed that the number of those with physical and mental impairments will only increase with time. Disability is caused by many factors, such as birth defects, environmental hazards, industrial accidents, war and other conflicts. Some of the factors are easily preventable, such as malnutrition and diseases.

Even walking and playing can be dangerous. According to Rehabilitation International, between 250-500 disabilities are caused simply due to encounters with landmines.

Many people with physical disabilities do not have access to wheelchairs or crutches. Instead, they resort to makeshift items that do not offer quality mobility or comfort.

Because being disabled impacts your ability to work, disabled Africans struggle to support themselves and their families. In most cases, the disabled resort to begging outside of churches and on the streets.

In the poorest parts of Africa, the percentage of disabled children who receive an education are as low as 1 to 3 percent. They are denied education because there are no special facilities to accommodate them. Furthermore, there are cultural attitudes, such as shame and fear, associated with having a disability.

Sunit Bagree says, “…traditional and religious beliefs can make people believe that having a disabled child is a form of punishment, related to the concept of sin.”

This negative stigma is often how disability is viewed by others, and it impacts every opportunity they have.

“Disabled young people all over the world face unfair inequality of opportunities, but in parts of Africa, conditions can be unimaginably hard,” says Damon Hill, Patron of Disability Africa, an organization that strives to improve the lives of disabled Africans.

To improve the lives of the disabled, legislation and organizations strive to change the stigma associated with disability.

In February 2014, the first ever African Leaders Forum on Disability was held in Malawi. At the event, leaders challenged the stigmas and inequalities associated with disability. Ultimately, the goal was to achieve awareness to spark equality and empowerment for people with disabilities in Africa.

“There is something about the plight that faces individuals with disabilities, including those with intellectual disabilities, that is compounded by an entrenched stigma that has endured, unjustly, for centuries and centuries,” says Joyce Banda, President of Malawi.

Determined to finally change the stigma associated with disability, President Malawi passed a Disability Act which created equal rights and inclusion policies for everyone with disabilities in Malawi.

Although many African countries have passed their own disability policies, there is still much more that can be implemented, believes Special Olympics Chairman, Tim Shriver.

President Banda declares, “No region of the world is doing enough for people with intellectual disabilities. Africa, with its emphasis on community and its peoples’ deep understanding of discrimination and deprivation, can be a leader in ensuring human rights, social services and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities.”

– Kelsey Parrotte

Sources: United Nations, African Studies Centre Leiden, Disabled World, UNICEF, WHO
Photo: The Salvation Army