Increasing Disability Support in BrazilBrazil’s poverty rate was 13.10% in 2020, well above the global average poverty rate of about 9% for the past several years. Among Brazil’s low-income residents, many have physical and mental disabilities. A global survey shows a strong correlation between disability and poverty in low and middle-income countries such as Brazil. Increasing disability support in Brazil is crucial to decreasing its poverty rate.

Statistics on Disability and Poverty in Brazil

In 2019, the National Survey of Health (PNS) reported that 17.3 million adults and children in Brazil were living with a mental or physical disability. PNS found that nearly half, 8.5 million, were 60 and older. Currently, Brazilian law recognizes disability in those who live with any long-term impairment that hinders full participation in society.

Poor Conditions Found in Institutions

Brazil has been criticized for its poor treatment of people with disabilities. In 2018, the Human Rights Watch released an 83-page report exposing inhumane conditions in institutions for people with disabilities. The report revealed a lack of basic food and hygiene services, neglect, abuse and little to no legal rights for those detained in institutions. The HRW visited eight institutions that forcibly restrained patients and sometimes tied them to their beds. Although the government passed the Brazilian Law for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in 2015, poor treatment of people with disabilities still occurred, as the HRW’s 2018 report shows.

A Need for More Government Support

Article 11 of the disabilities inclusion law states that people with disabilities retain legal rights to refuse medical intervention or forced institutionalization. However, many of these people have little choice. Often, they or their caregivers lack enough financial means for people with disabilities to live independently.

The government offers Benefício de Prestação Continuada (BPC), a monthly social pension for those with disabilities who cannot support themselves. BPC provides 954 Brazilian reals, $259, per month to an individual, but families state that this is not enough. The 2018 HRW report presents testimony from Brazilians calling for more services such as physical therapy and mobility devices.

HRW states that an over-reliance on institutionalization occurs partly because the Brazilian government does not provide enough support for these households. In addition, BPC is not adequate alone: In many cases, people with disabilities did not directly receive their social pension, and HRW found that institution employees had used these pensions without permission.

Increasing Disability Support and Funding

The Brazilian government responded to HRW reports and expanded the BPC program as of March 2020. More people with disabilities became eligible for a monthly pension in the expansion. Actions taken by other countries may also provide some models for supporting people with disabilities. Italy annually recalculates disability benefits based on changes in inflation and cost of living. Japan provides monthly compensation based on disability severity rather than a fixed amount.

Following the HRW’s recommendations, critics call on Brazil to do more for its people with disabilities: to continue expanding BPC, regulate institutions while working toward deinstitutionalization, pass legal reforms that protect autonomy, and develop more community-based services such as health care and inclusive education.

– Luke Sherrill
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

disability and poverty in the united kingdomIn August of 2019, Philippa Day, a young mother, was found in a coma in her Nottingham home. She had collapsed next to a letter rejecting her request for an at-home benefits assessment after a reduction in her payments from £228 a week to £60. After being in a coma for two months, Ms. Day died. An inquest into her case found that authorities made 28 errors in managing her case. This included losing a form she had sent them and refusing to reinstate her payments for months. The UK is decidedly a developed nation. However, disability and poverty in the United Kingdom stand in contrast to the nation’s economic well-being, steady poverty rate and reputation for providing sufficient social welfare.

Errol Graham, another under the care of the U.K. Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), starved to death in 2018 while seriously mentally ill. He had not responded to DWP inquiries and they had ended his benefits. When found, he weighed 30 kg and had pulled his teeth out with pliers.

Disability and Factors for Poverty

A Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report found that of those in poverty in the United Kingdom, nearly half are disabled or live with someone who is. The JRF found that factors for this poverty were that disabled people were less likely to be employed. They are also less likely to have the qualifications for high-paid employment if employed. Many were unable to find employment that accommodated their disabilities and health needs. They also had higher costs of living due to their health needs. These factors continue to aggravate the situation for disability and poverty in the United Kingdom.

The Desperate Situation

Disability and poverty in the United Kingdom has grown dire. BBC discovered there have been over 150 government inquiries into cases where a person claiming benefits has died or come to serious harm. Further, 82 people claiming benefits have died after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) made changes to their cases. Thirty-five of those deaths involved mental illness, leading to claims that DWP refuses to make accommodations and adjustments for mentally ill clients, thus endangering them. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Thérèse Coffey, stated that the DWP “did not have a duty of care or statutory safeguarding duty.” However, the DWP is solely responsible for the income of these disabled and vulnerable citizens.

Best Next Steps

Quite simply, the disabled need the same things as the able-bodied. That is, access to food, shelter, safety, community and opportunity. As it stands, a society built to benefit typical bodies and minds has built-in barriers for disabled people. For disabled people to achieve equality, these barriers must come down. In 2019, the UK government began a new mission toward improving life for disabled UK citizens. This is an attempt to remedy the worsening problem of poverty and disability in the United Kingdom. These goals include expanding accessible housing (300,000 homes per year), helping employers support disabled employees, reforming Statutory Sick Pay and exploring improvements to support for those on disability benefits.

These long-overdue steps, if effectively and sincerely followed, should provide relief for the problem of disability and poverty in the United Kingdom. This will help prevent further tragedies, such as the death of Philippa Day and the 82 benefits claimants who died after changes had been made to their cases.

Hilary Brown
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Disability and Poverty

More than one billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, have some type of disability. Furthermore, a large percentage of disabled people live in poor conditions. For example, 90 percent of people with impaired vision live in low-income settings. These disabled people in poverty often times lack resources such as food, water, shelter, healthcare, education and work. It is important that when people focus on aiding developing countries, disabled people in poverty are included in the picture.

10 Facts About Disability and Poverty

  1. Disability is an umbrella term that covers both the physical and mental conditions that limit a specific person’s senses, activities, movements or ability. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), disability is a human rights issue and is a very complex phenomenon.
  2. Disability is both a cause and consequence of poverty. This means that people who experience poverty are more likely to become disabled and people who are disabled are more likely to live in impoverished conditions.
  3. It is no surprise that the cost of living for a disabled person is higher than for an average person. Disabled people in poverty face economic problems due to things like additional medical treatment, rehabilitation and education access. WHO states that disabled people are 50 percent more likely to suffer from disruptive health expenditures.
  4. Almost half of the disabled population cannot afford healthcare. It is common that disability is preventable or treatable, but often times disabled people in poverty will go their entire lives without proper healthcare. Without treatment, medical conditions can worsen.
  5. In additional to overpriced healthcare, there is a lack of qualified healthcare professionals in developing countries. Also, people with disabilities are much more vulnerable to deficiencies in the healthcare system.
  6. Assistant devices or rehabilitation allow disabled people to be independent. However, disabled people in poverty typically lack access to these medical devices and health treatment. The WHO states that “access to rehabilitation can decrease the consequences of disease or injury, improve health and quality of life and reduce the use of health services.”
  7. People with disabilities are likely to have very limited education opportunities. For example, a deaf child is likely to be denied access to education because the school does not offer sign language-friendly tuition. This lack of education permanently affects the socioeconomic status of disabled people in poverty.
  8. For disabled people in poverty, securing work is extremely difficult. This can be due to the lack of accessibility in the workplace or discrimination. Only 45 countries have anti-discrimination laws to protect disabled people. As a result, treating disability can be very difficult for disabled people in poverty because disabled people have a hard time finding a stable job.
  9. Disabled people in poverty often times are put at risk due to impoverished living conditions. Recent research shows that there are alarming health condition trends associated with disability. UNICEF states that disabled people are more likely to contract infectious diseases and injuries. According to the WHO, many people with disabilities experience premature death.
  10. UNICEF states that it is important that disabled people in poverty gain affordable access to treatment. For some developing countries, global and nonprofit intervention is necessary. According to the World Bank, disability-inclusive development is being made. For example, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will help countries establish disability discrimination laws and create disability-friendly policies.

While experts state that intervention is necessary, it is believed that prevention programs are key for the future. Protection laws and policies will hopefully be put in place that will protect disabled people in poverty.

Morgan Leahy

Photo: Flickr

MIT Engineer Creates Wheelchair for the Disabled in the Developing World
According to the World Health Organization, more than 65 million people in the developing world are in need of a wheelchair. The majority of them live in rural areas that lack paved roads, sidewalks and ramps. Such areas are typically not wheelchair friendly, at least not for the traditional wheelchair.

Faced with the task of designing a chair that could tackle difficult terrain but is also cheap, easy to build and locally repairable, MIT engineer Amos Winter created what is now known as The Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC).

The LFC’s design in comparison to a standard wheelchair is best described through an analogy. A wheelchair as we in the developed world know it to be is most similar to a classic street bicycle. On the other hand, the LFC is comparable to a mountain bike. Designed for rough and rugged travel, the LFC (like a mountain bike) allows riders to shift gears depending on the level of torque they need for a given journey.

The LFC is now distributed through the Global Research Innovation and Technology team (GRIT). It comes in three sizes — small, standard and large — and is sold in bulk for NGOs, governments and aid agencies that then supply them to individuals. Each chair costs about $200, which is much cheaper than the average manual chair, which can run as high as $800.

The LFC has been distributed throughout 17 developing countries and has helped more than 1,500 disabled individuals regain their mobility in a way that is suitable for their living environment.

Ashok is a LFC rider from India who became immobile as a result of a spinal cord injury. After his injury, he was unable to travel to work in his tailoring shop because the hospital-style wheelchair could not withstand the terrain. Ashok was given a LFC in 2011 when GRIT launched their Indian field trail. Once Ashok received his LFC, he said, “Everything [went] back to normal.”

While mobility is vital to a suitable standard of living, independence and dignity are also necessary aspects. The LFC allows disabled individuals living in developing nations to return to normalcy and continue living their lives.

Brittney Dimond

Sources: TED, Squarespace 1, Squarespace 2, Gogrit
Photo: Flickr

HIV and disability
HIV infection rates have hit record highs in the past decade, but there’s one group of HIV-positive individuals who are being ignored – people with disabilities.

“People with disabilities are at increased risk for exposure to HIV infection,” said Jill Hanass-Hancock, a senior researcher at the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS research division, in an article by IRIN. “HIV, in some cases, in itself can cause disability.”

The link between HIV and disability is strong: the HIV infection rate among people with disabilities is up to three times as high as it is among those without disabilities, according to a 2011 report by Human Rights Watch. People with disabilities are four times more vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence, which increases their risk for exposure to HIV. But many struggle to be included in HIV response because of the assumption around the world that they are not sexually active, and so don’t need the services.

Knowledge about the needs of people with disabilities is lacking in general – many health facilities across the world don’t have ramps to accommodate people in wheelchairs, and there is little training among health workers on how to communicate or work with those with disabilities.

Individuals with disabilities face three major human rights abuses that increase their risk of becoming infected with HIV.

1. Higher risk of violence and lack of legal protection

People with disabilities are more vulnerable to violence because many lack the ability to defend themselves. With little access to police or legal counsel in some countries, they don’t know where to turn if they are victimized. They also have less access to medical intervention or response like psychosocial counseling.

2. Lack of education

Children who have disabilities are often shut out of education, including sexual health education. The World Bank estimates that as many as 97 percent of individuals across the world with disabilities, and 99 percent of women with disabilities, are illiterate. Without sexual health education, an individual won’t know how HIV is contracted or what to do if they have contracted it.

3. Lack of sexual health information

In general, it is assumed that people with disabilities are not sexually active. In fact, however, they are just as likely to be sexually active as people without disabilities, but are less likely to be given access to information about HIV prevention or access to preventative methods like condoms.

Those with disabilities are often the poorest members of many communities and they easily fall into a vicious cycle of disability and poverty. They are more likely to be poor because of negative social stigmatization, expensive treatment and isolation.

Furthermore, the poor are more likely to become disabled due to poor nutrition, poor access to medical care, dangerous housing and injuries on the job.

Finally, the HIV virus can have disabling effects on previously non-disabled individuals through significant developmental delays. Individuals who have a disability and become HIV-positive are doubly stigmatized, which reinforces their poverty.

It is important when moving towards an HIV-free world to include those with disabilities in the movement, as they are often overlooked.

Rachel Reed

Sources: IRIN, UN, Human Rights Watch
Photo: BET

disability aid
When foreign aid is discussed today, the primary points of discussion are normally water safety, affordable housing and access to basic health needs. These are all important issues that need constant aid and attention. However, there is another important issue that goes seemingly unnoticed in third world countries; disability among the poor. There are 1 billion disabled people on this planet, 80 percent of whom live in developing nations. That is one-sixth of the world’s population that lives with a disability, yet hardly any foreign aid goes towards making the planet a more disability friendly place.

The prevalence of severe and moderate disabilities increases from 2 percent in newborns to 55 percent among those over 80. Furthermore, as infant mortality rates decline there are higher survival rates of babies born with disabilities.

Research conducted through the World Health Organization shows that children with disabilities are three to five times more likely to suffer sexual and physical violence. For example, 14 percent of children in Mozambique between the ages of two and nine are disabled. Many of these children are hidden away by their families since it is a negative stigma in the country to have a disabled child. These disabled children are more vulnerable to discrimination. They have very little interaction with their peers and most of them do not attend schools. Out of the 58 million children worldwide who are missing from schools, almost a third of these children are missing due to disabilities.

These disabled poor cannot be ignored any longer. The Department for International Development in the UK has increased their commitment and focus on the issue of disability aid. DfID has committed to focus on social inclusion for disabled persons as well as bolstering its disability team and enabling them to act quicker in humanitarian emergencies. This could be the beginning of a new focus on disability aid, not as an afterthought, but as a well-planned area of humanitarian efforts.

DflD has committed to publishing a framework on disability aid in November. This framework will outline how they intend to tackle the issue of disability in relation to certain policies and practices. There needs to be a real and lasting focus on disability aid. The disabled are too often overlooked.

  • Catherine Ulrich

Sources: The Guardian, GOV.UK, The Guardian
Photo: Bloomberg

For the right price, most people can hop on a plane and go anywhere, anytime. College students in particular utilize this privilege and depart for couple months or a year on a study abroad program. A commonly overlooked fact is that for those with disabilities, this may seem like an impossible dream. Organizations like Mobility International USA are here to change that.

One participant in Mobility International USA described how she had wanted to study abroad during college, but was unable to find a program that could accommodate her special circumstances. After almost giving up, she discovered Mobility International and through the organization was connected to several programs that worked with the disabled. Because of Mobility International, she traveled to Peru and then eventually to 21 other countries. Her story is a common one in Mobility International.

Not only does Mobility International work with disabled college students, but also high school, professionals, Peace Corps volunteers and other groups to provide short-term exchanges all over the world. Currently, there are 2,000 people of all ages and backgrounds participating in the program worldwide.

In addition to international exchange programs, Mobility International USA partners with government and non-government disability groups around the world to ensure that people with disabilities have the same human rights as everyone else. This is particularly a concern in developing countries like Ethiopia, Albania, Jordan, Colombia, Uganda, Zambia, and Vietnam. By partnering with disability groups in these countries, Mobility International can work to ensure that the disabled receive the care they deserve.

Since its establishment in 1995, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State have sponsored Mobility International USA. This partnership has changed the lives of thousands of people with disabilities. Many, like the girl who was able to visit Peru, now work for the organization. Mobility International USA is an admirable organization dedicated to the pursuit of international experiences and, most importantly, a higher quality of life for the disabled.

– Mary Penn

Sources: Mobility International USA