Addis Guzo, Supporting People with Disabilities in EthiopiaAs of 10 years ago, nearly 15 million people in Ethiopia were living with disabilities. The vast majority of these individuals live in poverty due to a lack of proper infrastructure, education and awareness of how to treat disabilities. Lower and middle-income countries, a category that includes countries like Ethiopia, tend to have difficulties in supporting people with disabilities. This is because there are often very few centers where people with disabilities can get the care that they need, and even those centers can be hard to access by the majority of the population.

Aiding People with Disabilities in Ethiopia

Although the country has dedicated itself to helping people with disabilities through agreements like the 2006 African Decades of Disabled Persons, structural barriers have made it rather difficult to truly support people.

However, some organizations are starting to addressing the lack of resources for people with disabilities in Ethiopia. One such program is Addis Guzo. Founded in 2012, this Switzerland-based NGO supports people with disabilities in Ethiopia through integration efforts, as well as by educating the public. In order to benefit the local communities, the NGO is also staffed entirely with people from Ethiopia.

Addis Guzo’s Programs

There are two important programs that Addis Guzo runs to help people with disabilities in Ethiopia. The first is the Wheelchair Workshop. Every year, Addis Guzo collects wheelchairs in Switzerland and sets up a program so that people who need a wheelchair in Ethiopia can get a new wheelchair or repair their existing model. The program has a large impact, collecting around 600 wheelchairs annually.

Wheelchairs can be important tools to drastically improve the lives of their users by enabling mobility. Without wheelchairs, it can be difficult for people with disabilities to live the lives they want, or to do more traditional work. Having a wheelchair can improve this situation by helping people integrate themselves by enabling them to travel long distances for work or be active for longer periods of time. In fact, a study of wheelchair users in Ethiopia estimated that using a wheelchair increased the probability of employment by 15%, as well as increased wages and average hours of work

The second program is Rehabilitation, Economic Empowerment and Sports. The goal of this program is to give people living with disabilities in Ethiopia hope for the future by supporting them in a wide variety of ways. This includes business partnerships, sports leagues and counseling.

Supporting People with Disabilities in Ethiopia

Such programs offered by Addis Guzo are essential to help build skills among people with disabilities in Ethiopia and foster inclusion. Sports can give people leadership and teamwork skills they may not have otherwise developed. Additionally, sports can help build community among players, helping people to network and build important connections that they can use later in life. Programs like the one put forth by Addis Guzo can foster these connections and help people with disabilities integrate themselves into society, something Ethiopia has historically struggled with.

– Thomas Gill
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

Unlocking Accessibility for People with Disabilities in Paraguay
Through improving labor access, Paraguay has made recent advancements to become a more inclusive and equal society. Although only 15% of people worldwide have disabilities, an estimated 80% of them are out of work. Fundacion Saraki is at the forefront of finding employment and thus improving the lives of people with disabilities in Paraguay. Its first step was to work toward compliance with a congressional law providing labor inclusion in public institutions.

Congress agreed to grant the foundation an agreement for the “Effective Labor Inclusion” of those with disabilities in both the private and public sectors. Through this, Fundacion Saraki has begun to work toward increasing access to jobs with companies such as McDonald’s and Supermercados España, a Paraguayan supermarket chain. Both companies recently hired interns with disabilities who were later offered jobs with the companies in Capiata and San Lorenzo, two cities near the capital, Asunción.

The foundation has also worked to improve building access. Working with architecture students from local universities, the foundation is working toward raising building standards in the country. Students inspect the buildings and make recommendations to the companies housed there on how to improve their construction to accommodate disabled workers and customers. Thus, this solution is an improvement for both those with disabilities who can enjoy increased services and the companies who serve them in increasing their consumer base. They have also worked toward improving bus conditions to increase the ease of riding for everyone.

Through cooperation with USAID and the National Democratic Institute, the foundation has reached an agreement with Paraguay’s Superior National Electoral Tribunal to ensure improved participation of those with disabilities in the country’s upcoming election in November 2015. These organizations have recently published a manual titled “Equal Access: How To Include Persons with Disabilities in Elections and Political Processes.” Through this publication and continuing efforts on the part of all involved organizations, previous obstacles that prevented disabled people from voting in elections will be removed. Because those who are disabled are often also poor and marginalized, their voices in the political process are crucial.

“We are trying to work the government because in Paraguay disabilities have not been a priority, and we hope to have a greater impact on the private industry as well,” said Fundacion Saraki’s Executive Director Maria Jose Cabezudo Cuevas. Indeed, improving the quality of life and increasing opportunities for those with disabilities supports success and creates a more inclusive, fairer society for everyone.

– Jenny Wheeler

Sources: USAID, National Democratic Institute
Photo: USAID

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