Living in Poverty With Disabilities
In the world today, more than one billion people live with some form of disability. Eighty percent of those people live in developing countries. In one study, in 15 developing countries worldwide, households with at least one disabled member were worse off financially than those without. The intersection between poverty and disabilities highlights one of the most critical forms of inequality plaguing the world. Ahead are five facts about living in poverty with disabilities:

  1. The world’s poor are disproportionately disabled. According to the World Bank, approximately 20 percent of the poorest people in the world are disabled. Much of this relates specifically to the financial costs of disability. In fact, in Tamil Nadu, India, a study found that the average cost of living with a disability amounted to two to three times the financial losses suffered due to lowered productivity caused by poor nutrition.
  2. Just as disability can lead to poverty, poverty can lead to disability. With poverty comes the potential increase of disability due to disease, malnutrition, dangerous work environments, poor housing and healthcare, lack of clean water  and violence. The stigma surrounding disabilities limits people’s access to education, employment, health services and community support. All of these induce further poverty.
  3. Organizations such as ADD International partner with disability activists in Africa and Asia to provide tools, resources and support for the disability rights movement. These organizations strive for improvements in employment, access to education and overall equality for individuals living in poverty with disabilities.
  4. In Cambodia, Caritas Australia’s Deaf Development Program (DDP) improves access to education and increases employment opportunities for those who are deaf or hearing impaired. Caritas Australia also partners with organizations in Laos, such as the Lao Disabled Persons Association. This organization helps parents and teachers understand the needs of children with mental disabilities. And in Vietnam, Caritas Australia’s Supporting Adults and Children with Disabilities program provides vocational training and social support.
  5. In 2006, the U.N. adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in order to transform the treatment of people with disabilities, turning them from “‘objects’ of charity” into autonomous “‘subjects’ with rights.” It was intended to clarify and qualify how all categories of rights apply to people with disabilities. It also adapts itself to become amenable to persons with disabilities and to ensure that they can exercise their rights fully.

Ultimately, it is incumbent upon the world’s community to put an end to both the stigmatization of disabilities and the overarching trend of poverty. Though this will take diligent work on both a social and economic level, it is necessary in order to create a society characterized by equality for all people.

Emily Chazen

Photo: Flickr

Since the election of Evo Morales in 2005, Bolivia has pledged to strive for social and economic reform. Despite aiming for a more inclusive society, poverty is still widespread and certain groups remain marginalized, including Bolivians with disabilities. Many continue to live in extreme poverty with little access to resources.

In the spring of 2016, a group Bolivians with disabilities marched more than 400 kilometers from Cochabamba to La Paz, protesting their lack of basic rights. The government previously stated that benefits would be awarded to those with extreme disabilities. To qualify, individuals need to receive special identification. The ID card can only be awarded following neurological exams that cost approximately 500 bolivianos ($70).

This cost is high for many in Bolivia with disabilities, as they often live in poverty and are unable to work due to their impairments. The purpose of the recent protests was to persuade the government to provide a monthly allowance of 500 bolivianos to those with severe disabilities, which would allow them to pay for physical therapy, healthcare and housing.

In February 2017, Morales submitted a proposal to Congress requesting that a monthly allowance of 250 bolivianos be provided to Bolivians with severe and serious disabilities. The Federation of Municipal Associations of Bolivia (FAM) also announced their support of the Morales’s bill. Mayors are responsible for making payments in each municipality. More than half of Bolivians with disabilities live in the large cities of La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz, and these municipalities state that they have the financial resources necessary to provide qualifying individuals with benefits.

The current proposal only provides half of the monetary amount protesters asked for, and its success remains to be determined. Benefits will not be distributed until 2018. However, Bolivians with disabilities are also gaining rights through accesses to other resources. Handicap International and the Bolivian Ministry of Health are working together to build rehabilitation centers in various municipalities that provide necessary therapies. There currently is a network of 30 centers in Bolivia.

Additionally, these protests and attention have not only led to the provision of monetary benefits, but have also raised awareness of the struggles of Bolivians with disabilities, particularly the high proportion of them that live in extreme poverty. Moving forward, increased awareness and respect will be crucial in ensuring that those with disabilities receive necessary services that will allow them to be more engaged members of the community and avoid living in extreme poverty.

Nicole Toomey

Photo: Flickr

Zambia_Children_HealthThe International Labor Organization (ILO) has launched an innovative new pilot program to improve access to vocational training and employment for young people with disabilities in Zambia. ILO has been working with the Zambian government since 2012 to make training institutions more inclusive, and this new program will augment that effort.

Zambia currently has 300 vocational training institutions serving over 33,600 students, but ability-based discrimination during enrollment has lead to high levels of exclusion and unemployment for many young people. ILO hopes this program will change that.

“The program will give young people with disabilities the skills they need to enter the open labor market,” the report read.

ILO currently audits training institutions against international standards to identify barriers to entry, ease of campus accessibility and adaptability of curricula for students with special needs. Recommendations are then made to the colleges to make improvements.

Instructors also undergo disability awareness training that includes not only insight into the physical limitations of students but also ways in which students are hindered by societal attitudes and stigma. Instructors are then supported in finding ways to overcome these obstacles.

Under the new pilot program, 20 teachers at five training institutions will take courses on how to build inclusive educational environments, and they will become certified to train other teachers, creating a sustainable education model. Training for new teachers will also be redesigned to include disability inclusion from the outset.

Partner colleges have embraced these efforts. “Our goal is to be a fully inclusive vocational training institution within three to five years,” said Samuel Mayo, Chief Executive of Lusaka Technical and Business College.

But discrimination continues beyond education into working life in Zambia, where over 45 percent of young people with disabilities are unemployed. Employers hesitate to hire these candidates because they incorrectly assume there will be costs associated with doing so. They might also assume that these candidates will require complicated special accommodations, which has also proven to be untrue.

In response, ILO held a roundtable discussion on the business-case benefits of hiring qualified candidates regardless of ability. The event brought in 50 representatives from private companies and launched the formation of the Zambia Business and Disability Network, which now works to build capacity for inclusive hiring practices among employers.

While the organization works primarily with business leaders to foster inclusive workplace attitudes, it has also partnered with hiring agencies to develop skills and confidence for candidates of all abilities.

ILO is confident that this program’s sustainable model will allow it to have a broader impact outside of Zambia. “By being both a source and a catalyst of knowledge-sharing and innovation, the ILO program is helping countries around the world achieve better results for men and women with disabilities,” they say.

Ron Minard

Sources: ILO, UN, WHO
Photo: Flickr

Americans with Disabilities Twice As Likely to Live in Poverty
On Sunday, July 26, 2015, the Americans with Disabilities Act will turn 25 years old, marking the anniversary of a major landmark in establishing equality for those with both physical and mental disabilities. A quarter of a century after the enactment of the law, people with disabilities still face difficulty finding jobs or making ends meet. As the largest minority group in the United States, Americans with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty, compared to Americans without any form of disability.

In an article published by NPR, columnist Pam Fessler examined the disparities faced by people with disabilities, disparities that sometimes come as a direct result of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In her piece, Fessler interviewed Debbie Eagle, a blind woman who had an interesting theory as to why those with disabilities face such hardships finding employment.

Eagle’s theory was as follows: “Employers are scared to hire us because they don’t know what kind of accommodations we require. And if they don’t meet what we consider to be reasonable accommodations, they’re afraid we’ll sue them.” While there is no evidence to support this claim, consider the fact that in 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, 28.4% of adults with disabilities were employed, while as recently as 2013, only 14.4% of the same demographic were employed. Eagle’s theory may very well hold water with data such as this.

Another article raising concern about the lives of disabled people in poverty was published recently by Will Reeve, the son of the late Christopher Reeve, who was best known for his portrayal of Superman during the 70’s and 80’s, but was also known as a champion for the disabled after becoming paralyzed due to a horseback-riding accident. Reeve made the argument that the Americans with Disabilities Act did wonders for those with disabilities, but needs to do more in this day and age.

Reeve wrote, “560,000 people with disabilities never leave their homes because of transportation difficulties, and those who do face considerable obstacles.” He went on to make the connection that because of certain inabilities to travel, many people with disabilities are marooned at home and fall into poverty because of a lack of services to assist them. Almost one-third of people with disabilities live below the poverty line. This statistic is frightening considering we are preparing to celebrate the landmark anniversary of legislation that was supposed to give rise to equality.

Diego Catala

Sources: NPR, USA Today
Photo: The ADA Legacy Project

RENO, Nevada — When people say they want to help the world, or even America’s impoverished people, they think of the hungry, the homeless and the uneducated. Often those with disabilities are overlooked.

According to the World Health Organization, disabled persons are the world’s largest socially marginalized group. Compared to those without disabilities, they suffer from poorer health, lower educational achievements, fewer work opportunities and higher rates of poverty.

It was reported in 2012 that of the 19.9 million American citizens with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 64, 5.8 million of them live below the poverty line. This equals a poverty rate of 29.2 percent. Comparatively, 13.6 percent of citizens ages 18-64 without disabilities live below the poverty line. Those disabled that are blind or visually impaired the unemployment rate is over 70 percent.

The average median income of males without disabilities has been reported at $48,000 and women without disabilities earn a median of $37,000. Compared to men with disabilities who only earn a median of $41,500 and disabled women who only earn $32,000.

The American Psychological Association has shown that this effect on a disabled persons socio-economic standing is what contributes to their poor health and under education.

Even when disabled person do receive the support and attention they deserve which are viewed as basic human rights they are more often than not forced to live in poverty. The answer to this puzzling dilemma lies in the benefits the disabled receive.

Those with disabilities will generally be awarded Supplemental Security Income. This is one of two government programs designed to help those either born with a disability or those that develop a disability. The latter group will normally receive Supplemental Security Disability Insurance.

In order to retain these benefits, and their health insurance, individuals with disabilities are not allowed to earn more than $700 a month or have savings in excess of $2,000. Even with their benefits these figures leave many disabled persons surviving well below the poverty line.

At the end of September of this year that all changed. Championed by a woman born with down syndrome. Sara Wolf, now 31, has been working for her godfather’s law firm for the last thirteen years. In July, of this year, she testified before a U.S. Senate committee in Washington. Her goal was to pressure law makers into passing the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act.

The ABLE Act would let people with a disability create tax-exempt savings accounts, up to $100,000, to help them pay for things like a home, higher education, transportation, job-hunting costs and health care. This money would not count towards their savings, or income limits, which would endanger their disability income and health insurance.

As Wolff toured the country rallying support for her cause she managed to drum up 261,000 signatures for her online petition. Her efforts paid off as she acquired 380 sponsors in the House for her bill and 74 sponsors in the Senate. In July, the House Ways and Means Committee passed the bill unanimously.

Wolf said she wanted to take control of her future in the same way that many other Americans do. “I want people to know that I’m just like you,” Wolff said. “I could do whatever I put my mind and heart to.”

Frederick Wood II

Sources: APA, Disability Scoop, Huffington Post, Disability Compendium, Al Jazeera
Photo: Flickr

World rehabilitation fund
Fifteen percent of the world’s population has some form of disability, leaving approximately 110 million adults with significant difficulties in functioning. Founded in 1955 by Howard Rusk, the World Rehabilitation Fund (WRF) believes that all people, regardless of disabilities, have the right to be part of their communities and to have full access to opportunities like education and employment.

To make good on its belief, WRF has become involved in humanitarian services in the Middle East. The nonprofit is dedicated to provide artificial limb technology to disabled people in Afghanistan, one of the most heavily-mined places in the world. WRF aims to provide fitted limbs to 2,000 amputees. WRF piloted prosthetics limbs in response to devastating natural disasters such as the earthquake that crippled thousands of Pakistanis in 2006. The artificial limbs have proved to be suitable and comfortable for below the knee amputees.

In addition to providing prosthetics, WRF also provides people with living skills and job opportunities, which helps amputees reestablish their self-esteem.

WRF also supports the disabilities by financially supporting the Artisans Association of Cambodia. The AAC sells artisan products made by Cambodians with disabilities and helps them to make a living wage. The sales revenue of the AAC rose from $250,000 in 1999 to over $3,000,000 in 2012, benefiting 2,000 artisans. The AAC exports its products to over 9 countries in Asia, Europe, North America and New Zealand.

Today, the WRF is responding to the civil war in Syria, assisting millions of refugees being forced to flee to neighboring countries such as Lebanon. WRF-Lebanon provides life-changing devices to people with disabilities ranging from hearing aids to artificial limbs. Over 600 people have been helped by WRF and its partners in that war-torn area.

WRF’s sustained efforts to make a difference in the lives of the disabled people across the globe is a testament to their belief that each person’s dignity is interconnected. As Rusk, says, “To believe in rehabilitation is to believe in humanity.”

Jing Xu

Sources: World Health Organization, The World Rehabilitation Fund

Without Limits: United Cerebral Palsy - The Borgen Project
On the home page of the United Cerebral Palsy website,, a picture of a young girl is posted. Her facial bis carefree and hopeful. Immediately above her, UCP’s logo is accompanies by the text: “Life without limits for people with disabilities.”

United Cerebral Palsy aims to remove barriers to success for people with disabilities. UCP started in 1949 in response to needs of parents of children with Cerebral Palsy by creating a network for information and resources.

Beyond Cerebral Palsy, UCP serves people with Down Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder and physical and mental disabilities. The organization works with over 100 other affiliates to provide services such as housing, help finding a job, technology training and family support.

United Cerebral Palsy is a civil rights movement for those with disabilities. UCP does this by ensuring the basic human right of opportunity and equal living standards through expansive networks and lobbying Congress. UCP is uniting people and organizations to give a greater voice to the disabled.

This year, UCP released “The Case for Inclusion,” which tracks progress in providing care and opportunities for the disabled. Only 15 states make support services for families with a disabled member available for at least 200 families of 100,000.

Case for Inclusion also provides rankings of states based on providing support for people with disabilities and their families. In 2014, Arizona, Michigan and Hawaii ranked in the top three. Virginia, Texas and Mississippi ranked last.

Poverty and disability are closely related. Worldwide, one billion people, over 10 percent of the world’s population, live with a disability. Around 80 percent of disabled people live in developing countries, with around 20 percent of disabled people in these countries living in poverty.

Oftentimes, lack of services provided to people with disabilities results in limited access to basic necessities, healthcare, education, employment and political participation.

The World Health Organization states that disability is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. Lack of healthcare and limited nutrition contribute to disabilities created by poverty.

According to the WHO,” Poverty may lead to the onset of health conditions associated with disability including through: low birth weight, malnutrition, lack of clean water or adequate sanitation, unsafe work and living conditions, and injury.” For instance, 20 million women become disabled because of pregnancy and childbirth complications.

Many disabled people rely on a full-time caretaker. Most often, this caretaker is an immediate family member, so along with the disabled person, two members of the household do not receive a regular income. Disability also comes with extra healthcare costs and limited access to education and employment.

With the missing income and additional cost, poverty persists.

Beyond the U.S., disabled people lack the same network that United Cerebral Palsy provides for them and their families in the U.S. Giving a voice to the disabled and improving their quality of life plays a significant role in reducing global poverty, as a significant number of impoverished are disabled.

Tara Wilson

Sources: Case for Inclusion, World Health Organization, United Cerebral Palsy, Huffington Post, Handicap International
Photo: Mandurah Mail

disabled children
The Hospital and Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children, the only children’s orthopedic hospital in Nepal, is working toward treating Nepalese children and performing affordable surgeries that would otherwise go undone.

In Nepal, about 83 percent of the population lives below the $2 a day poverty line. Once a child gets sick, it is unlikely that its family can make it to a treatment center or hospital, and less likely that the family could pay for for the treatment without crippling its savings. The HCDR was created to change that.

The HCDR was erected in 1997, but the team has been working with children’s surgeries since 1985 in remote villages and smaller buildings. The organization’s founder and current leader is Dr. Ashok Kumar Banskota, a Nepalese doctor who was educated in India and the United States.

Once he returned to Nepal after his studies, Dr. Banskota wanted to make healthcare accessible to all who need it in his home country rather than to just the rich or those in the most accessible regions.

The HCDR is a tertiary level pediatric hospital that performs about 1,500 surgeries each year, and provides physical therapy and prosthetics when needed. In order to reach as many patients as possible for aftercare, HCDR has community-based rehabilitation services that follow up with patients in their villages and show families how to properly care for their children after surgery.

The team has worked hard to make its care accessible to all, with the average cost of surgery at only $151. It has also incorporated home visits to make post-surgery adjustments easier on the patients as well.

HRDC works on continually training new doctors to keep its hospital well staffed. They get trained in Primary Rehabilitation Therapy in order to continue recovery for patients. There are also periodic courses offered to keep everyone up to date.

A study done to test the impact of HRDC on the patients it has treated previously showed positive results. The study showed over 90 percent of the children reported positive impact from HRDC treatment on further growth and development, both physically and socially.

Courtney Prentice

Sources: Global Giving, Himalayan Foundation, Google, HRDC Nepal
Photo: Talk Vietnam

brazilian artist
Brazilian artist, Carol Rossetti, began her project with the hopes of simply helping a few women in the world. What she got was much greater-international recognition and respect from men and women all around the world. Rossetti is a Brazilian graphic designer who takes on the responsibility of addressing the highly oppressive gender conventions heavily experienced in traditional Latin American culture.

The exceptional project remains unnamed, as it racks up over 83,000 Facebook likes, and counting. What was meant to be a local project has grown into an international movement, offering voices and calming support to women.

An example of the project is the simple image of a woman clutching her knees with the caption “Ana was raped.” It reads “Ana, you are not alone. It’s not your fault. This experience is not what defines you as a human being. You are so much more than this.” The powerful, yet simple, statement offers support to victims without focusing on the traumatic event. This is the most popular image on her site, along with many others in the same vein of topic.

When asked to describe her images, Rossetti tells CNN, “I think the point of my illustrations is to show, in a gentle and non-aggressive way, that there is still a lot of oppressive control over women’s personal choices and identities, and expose a problem of representation toward women, people of color, people with disabilities, (LGBT concerns) and so on.” Her poignant description allows any viewer to understand the concept without obviously stating the issues seen in modern society.

What started as a feminist project has, with the input of viewers, inspired Rossetti to become the voice for many social stigmas. Rossetti hopes to address racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and the like. Rossetti has expressed her frustration with “the world attempts to control women’s bodies, behavior and identities” and hopes that these images will inspire not just women, but all humans to reconsider their conceptions of society, and the realities within.

In many countries, women are generally accepted as the lesser gender, with restricted rights and restricted access to privileges. Rossetti’s images have spread to the far corners of the world,  inspiring women in India, for example, to question and rebel against the role given to them.

Today, women fight in every nation to receive the level of respect and acceptance given to men. Rossetti perfectly captures this internal dialogue experienced by every woman and gives them a way to portray it. Her simple designs allow the words to speak for themselves. Her message cannot be skewed by criticism if it inspires, at the very least, one viewer.

-Elena Lopez

Sources: ABS-CBN News, Bustle, CNN
Photo: CNN

93 million children around the globe have a moderate or severe disability.  Many of these children live in developing nations that do not have the financial or social tools to make necessary accommodations for special needs children.  Even more disturbing is the discrimination against children with special needs, making children who need our support the most feel abandoned.

This is where Able Child Africa (ACA) steps in.  ACA was founded in the wake of the Ugandan Civil War in 1984 with a vision of helping children with disabilities realize a future of equality and inclusion in society.

The organization seeks to break down the social barriers that demean special needs people.  These barriers are broken down into three categories: physical and environmental barriers that prevent access to buildings, transportation and the like as well as institutional barriers such as governmental policy that fails to recognize the equality of disabled people and negative popular attitudes about disability.

ACA works locally with communities in order to help create a sustainable culture of change for special needs children.  For example, ACA is partnered with the Ugandan Society for Disabled Children.  Together, the two organizations oversee support groups for parents of special needs children and run training programs to teach elementary and secondary school teachers how to be more inclusive.  ACA also runs two centers in Kenya and Tanzania, respectively.

Although 63 percent of children in African countries are now completing a primary education, only two percent of children with disabilities complete this stage.  In 2006, the United Nations held the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which requires all member nations to be inclusive for disabled persons in all levels of education.  With such a gap between traditional and special needs students, much work must be done.  ACA is willing to take up the fight.

Taylor Diamond

Sources: UNICEF, Able Child Africa
Photo: The Guardian