Poverty and DisabilityMany factors can contribute to poverty in China, including disability. Due to socioeconomic barriers and discrimination, people with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty. With a high population rate, China has one of the largest numbers of disabled people living in poverty. Unemployment, lack of education and discrimination are just some of the many challenges this population faces in China.

9 Facts About Disability and Poverty in China

  1. High Disability Population: The total population of people living with disabilities in China reached 85 million in 2018, which is 6.5% of the total Chinese population. In 2006, men accounted for 51% of the disabled population while 49% were women. Many of these individuals often do not receive adequate support due to discrimination or “ableism,” meaning social prejudice against people with disabilities. In an article titled “Gender and Disability in Chinese Higher Education,” China is categorized as an ableist society with a number of injustices facing the disability community. As such, people with disabilities are “often seen as persons presenting inconvenience and burdens to society.” Ableism in China has also led to many children with disabilities being abandoned. Some statistics estimate around 98% of abandoned children in China may have disabilities. Thus, societal prejudices contribute significantly to the lack of support that individuals with disabilities in China receive.
  2. Lack of Education: The lack of quality education offered to people with disabilities in China has disadvantaged these individuals academically and economically. In China, the gap in education quality for disabled individuals is growing. Poverty remains a crucial obstacle in the empowerment of those living with disabilities. Due to this lower quality education, individuals aged 15 and above with disabilities have an illiteracy rate greater than 40%. This difference is staggering compared to the 3.3% illiteracy rate for the same age group without disabilities. Similarly, the lack of education provided to people with disabilities in China causes these individuals to experience challenges during the employment process. Jobs often require proficiency in language skills, leaving disabled individuals at a disadvantage.
  3. Lack of Monetary Support: Often, Chinese employers do not provide sufficient support to individuals with disabilities. Employment services for disabled people in China are at the initial stages, and they have proven to be inadequate to help unemployed, disabled persons obtain jobs. The quality of employment, including wage levels and conditions of work, have room for improvement. Because of the lack of proper services to economically empower people with disabilities, these individuals often live in poverty.
  4. High Disability Rate in Rural Areas: The disabled population in urban areas accounted for 20.71 million, or 20.96%, of the population. Meanwhile, the disabled population in rural areas is 62.25 million, or 75.04%. There are significantly more disabled people living in rural areas compared to urban areas. The employment difference is mainly due to this gap in the urban and rural populations. Initially, China had a very agricultural-based economy. However, with recent economic reforms, the country has industrialized, and most of the population now lives in urban areas. Many rural residents face obstacles in moving to urban areas, mainly because most only receive short-term contracts that do not entitle them to urban residency status. The lack of residency status prevents them from accessing proper healthcare services and other benefits. This gap is an even more significant barrier for people with disabilities, as a lack of appropriate care can be detrimental to their health.
  5. Discrimination Against Disabled Employees: China’s anti-discriminatory laws, especially in employment, are often not followed. China has laws that ensure protection and equal rights for disabled people. However, employers frequently ignore these laws. While the Chinese government installed a quote system in 2008 with penalties for failing to abide, many employers preferred to pay the fine than hire a worker with a disability. These discriminatory actions put workers with disabilities at a greater disadvantage for finding employment and gaining support from their government.
  6. High Mortality Rate: According to the U.N., in countries where “under-five mortality,” meaning the probability (per 1,000) that a newborn will die before reaching the age of 5, has decreased below 20%, the mortality rate for children with disabilities may be as high as 80%. In China, the 2019 mortality rate for children under five is 7.9%, which is less than 20%. This means that there is a high death rate for children with disabilities. Additionally, there is a lack of medical services available for families without health insurance to support a disabled child.
  7. Adult Opposition: Parental opposition and the lack of trained teachers represent further obstacles to quality education. Students with disabilities do not receive adequate learning because there is a lack of trained teachers who know how to create an inclusive environment at school. Research has shown that although 77% of teachers have experience teaching students with special needs, 60% of teachers have not received the proper training nor know how to teach them in an inclusive environment. This ineffective education system for students with disabilities sets the foundation for future disempowerment in China’s economic and social spheres.
  8. Disability Cycle: Disability and poverty are creating a cycle in which one reinforces the other. Low-income individuals often lack access to quality healthcare, and this healthcare disparity further aggravates the burdens of these groups. These healthcare programs expose individuals to diseases that can lead to long-term disabilities. Disability can then lead to decreased productivity, preventing these individuals from working, and thus resulting in unemployment. Ultimately, higher unemployment rates lead to higher poverty rates, creating a cycle of poverty and disability.
  9. Lack of Employment: Discrimination and bias hold back disabled individuals from employment and lead to higher poverty rates. People with disabilities in China face prejudice and discrimination and are often marginalized and “largely invisible” to others. Research studies exploring the discrimination that individuals with disabilities face reveal that birthing or raising a person with a disability was believed to bring shame and guilt to the family. Because of this widespread stigma, there is a belief that people with disabilities are incapable of working, which causes many barriers for them in accessing employment opportunities. As a result of less employment, there is an increase in poverty.

Looking Ahead

While poverty in China affects a significant portion of its population, it has disproportionately affected individuals with disabilities due to the unique economic and social disadvantages they face. From lack of employment opportunities, lower-quality education and poor healthcare access to the persisting stigma associated with disabilities and rampant discrimination, challenges for people with disabilities are numerous in this country. China can continue to support its disabled community through education initiatives, economic opportunities and protective legislative actions.

– Philip Tang
Photo: Unsplash

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

Education for Children with Disabilities
An international advocacy group released a report this month outlining the enormous task the world faces on the global issue of education for children with disabilities. The report states that “at least half of the world’s 65 million school-age children with disabilities are not in primary or lower secondary school.”

The International Disability and Development Consortium (IDCC) commissioned the report with an eye on understanding whether the 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs) can be achieved with respect to “inclusive and equitable quality education for all.” According to UNESCO, “children with disabilities make up the largest group of readily identifiable children who have been and continue to be persistently excluded from education.”

The contrast between education for children with disabilities and children generally is stark. As of 2016, 91 percent of all children in the majority world are enrolled in primary education. Meanwhile, in a 2015 report by UNESCO, 98 percent of children in majority world countries do not have any schooling afforded them.

The link between poverty and the disability is also telling. In the majority world, where poverty rates are often severely detrimental to social growth, the problems self-perpetuate each other. UNICEF notes that “Poverty and disability reinforce each other, contributing to increased vulnerability and exclusion.”

UNICEF explains that’s because children who are poor and who also live in poor countries are more likely to become disabled because of poor health care and other social systems. Furthermore, they are often denied basic resources that would otherwise mitigate or prevent their increasingly impoverished state.

Much is to blame for the apparent discrimination toward children with disabilities. One primary cause is a lack of understanding by government officials on the efficacy of investing in children with disabilities. The IDCC in part concluded that many governments incorrectly believe that investing in education for children with disabilities will yield low returns.

However, the group’s research has shown that inclusive education for all can reduce the population of uneducated, tackle discrimination generally and promote solutions for other school-related problems. They also found that segregated education, beyond the extent to which certain students may need it, is more expensive.

UNESCO and the IDCC conclude that to tackle the problem as it is now, greater reform culturally and politically is needed among “stakeholders.” Governments and non-governmental organizations must reverse global trends of divestment in education for children generally, as well as educate on nearly all social levels the need for investment in children with disabilities.

The IDCC urges prioritization of education for children with disabilities around the world if the SDGs are to be realized. Those changes must occur in terms of increased and targeted funding practices and increased normalization of disability-awareness and responsiveness to the needs of children with disabilities.

James Collins

Photo: Flickr

Education in Mozambique: Serving Children with Disabilities
Volunteers spent the day with disabled children and adults at the Matola Children’s Home. In Mozambique, disabled people may be abandoned by family members and are often seen as a financial burden.

Currently, the Matola Children’s Home houses 42 children from many local areas and has 67 young children in their daily preschool. The center relies solely on donations from the international community. The most difficult situation for disabled children is the limited assistance and opportunities they have to pursue an education in Mozambique.

According to the African Disability Rights Yearbook, 103,276 people with disabilities were children between the ages 0 to 15 years, which makes up approximately 21 percent of the total population of people with disabilities. One of the main problems within the confines of the country with such children is the issue of schooling.

Public schools aren’t developed with this demographic in mind making, which makes it difficult for these children to partake in education provided by the government. In 2013, UNICEF partnered with world-renowned photographers to create a collection of multimedia films that centers on the troubles surrounding the children of Mozambique.

In “The Rights Responsibility: Invisible Children” directed by Francisco Carlos Zevute and photographed by Patrick Zachmann, many children and families are interviewed in order to shed light on how grave the situation pertaining to disabled children and education is in Mozambique.

The film goes on to state “children with disabilities are almost twice as likely to fall victim to violence and are at heightened risk of abandonment and intimidation.”

One of the direst situations for special needs education in Mozambique is a lack of qualified teachers able to teach these children as well as the infrastructure of schools which is not conducive for a child with disabilities.

Mozambique is slowly but surely making an effort to improve education as a whole in the country. In 2015, 51 percent of the country’s primary schools taught all seven grades in one school, and in 2016 the proportion increased to 56 percent.

Although great strides are made toward improving the education in Mozambique, little is being done to help disabled children.

Poverty plays a pivotal role in the scarce resources and availability of appropriate education for the disabled community. Ending global poverty proves to be a catalyst towards the accessibility of inclusive education in the developing world.

Mariana Camacho

Photo: Flickr


When organizations reach out to provide children in developing countries with an education, one group of children is often overlooked — children with disabilities.

The issue of not reaching children with disabilities is diverse. For example, there are children who physically cannot make it to school, and those who need specialized equipment, curriculum and teachers in order to learn and participate in school.

There are estimated to be around 93 million children with a disability in the world, with 80 percent of them living in developing countries. As there are limited to no resources to help them, these children are unfortunately more likely to drop out of school.

Many children with severe disabilities are already left out of the community and discriminated against. By lacking an education, these children will be further overlooked.

Some of these disability issues can be addressed by providing healthcare access to young children. Identifying that someone needs glasses or a hearing aid, for example, can allow children to go back to school and continue learning. Fixing clubfoot or cleft smile can ensure that children can physically get to school and speak without significant impediment.

One activist for education for disabled children is Ashwini Aangadi from India. As a visually impaired person herself, she recognized the need for schools for disabled children, especially blind youth. The schools for which she advocates not only provide an education that is accessible to blind students, but also accommodates the students. This way, students do not have to worry about transportation and self-care.

Aangadi believes that education is a key to giving the visually impaired a self-reliant and dignified life. This extends beyond just visually impaired children, to all disabled children. With an education, these children can begin to live a healthier, safer life and make meaningful contributions to the community.

– Katherine Hewitt

Sources: DNA India, Global Partnership,
Photo: Sulekha


Many young people in countries around the world do not have access to the kind of education Americans have in the U.S. In an effort to support global education, universities can make important additions to their programs.

According to Ethiopian Education Activist Selamawit Adugna Bekele, global education can help solve many social and health problems. For instance, education in Africa could help solve the continent’s problems of corruption, gender inequality and HIV.

Girls, children with disabilities and children living in areas of conflict are particularly at risk for being denied education. Many of the countries that have a large population in poverty are also without public education systems to which impoverished families can send their children.

UNESCO reported in October 2013 that 31 million girls of primary school age are not in school, which is 4 million more than boys of primary school age. The EFA Global Monitoring Report for 2013-2014 found that girls at the lowest level of poverty have the least chance of finishing primary school.

Here are 13 ways for universities to support global education:

  1. Create video conferences in global classrooms. Video conferences can connect one American class with another class around the world.
  2. Offer low-cost study abroad opportunities for students studying education. This will show students the forms of education around the world and encourage them to be active supporters of global education.
  3. Encourage the U.S. to increase foreign aid to global education. Widespread education leads to better economies, which would also help alleviate global poverty.
  4. Encourage the U.S. and the UN to support governments’ efforts to create public education systems for both boys and girls. This may even include providing help when militant groups oppose education.
  5. Invite representatives from organizations such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the VIF International Education, who promote global education, to speak during lectures or events.
  6. Invite teenagers or adults from less-developed countries to speak about their education during lectures or events.
  7. Make connections with national and international organizations to set up internships for the university’s students. The students will already be able to envision making global education their career.
  8. Dedicate a week or more out of each semester that focuses on increasing awareness about the need for global education.
  9. Create special programs to teach students how to combat global poverty. For instance, Austin College has a Social Entrepreneurship for Poverty Alleviation program that teaches students the skills they would need, such as finances, writing, community development, ethics, race relations, public speaking and human rights.
  10. Have requirements in certain classes for the students to visit local grade schools and promote a global perspective. This would likely apply to relevant departments, such as English, global studies, liberal studies, business and social work. Methods to promote a global perspective could include crafts, pen pals or showing videos of schools in other countries online.
  11. Encourage seniors to participate in the Fulbright Program, where recent graduates receive grants to teach English in other countries.
  12. Create majors and offer degrees that focus on promoting global education.
  13. Start an Adopt-A-School program, where the university adopts and supports a school in a poverty-stricken area in another country.

There are many ways that the students and staff of universities can use their resources to promote the education of everyone around the world, and campaigns to combat global poverty also contribute to the establishment of global education.

– Kimmi Ligh

Sources: The Olympian, VIF Program, Borgen MagazineFulbright Online, UNESCO Report 1, UNESCO Report 2
Photo: Day Trading Friends