Advocating for the Disabled


SEATTLE — More than 50 million refugees live in the world today, and the World Health Organization estimates there are several million people with disabilities among them. About half of the world’s 65 million children with disabilities do not attend school. Fortunately, the problem has not gone unnoticed. Ensuring healthy lives and promoting the wellbeing of all is included in the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. And thankfully, organizations like Disability Rights International, the Women’s Refugee Commission and Handicap International are advocating for the disabled on a global scale.

Disability Rights International argues that alongside poverty, disability has been a factor among the 10 million children living in orphanages around the world. Despite 95 percent of these children having at least one living parent, often times children are separated from a displaced parent because there is no other option. Whether a parent is a refugee, has a disability, or has a disabled child, this separation has implications for quality of life, health, safety and general wellbeing.

Disability Rights International is dedicated to advocating for the disabled and for their full inclusion in society. Its work includes collaborating with private advocates to increase local government assistance for at-risk families living in the developing world. With this, eventually, more alternative solutions to abandoning a child will be put in place.

According to the Women’s Refugee Commission, “as many as 7.7 million of the world’s 51 million people displaced by conflict, have disabilities.” The commission suggests that disabled refugees can be overlooked in data reports, excluded from or unable to access aid and health care services. They aim not only to advance the rights and dignity of disabled refugees but, through research initiatives, to help foster the capacity for disabled refugees to make a meaningful contribution to society.

The Women’s Refugee Commission works with the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and local government agencies to facilitate change by hosting training workshops for disability workers. So far, workshops have been held in Kenya, Uganda, Thailand, Bangladesh, India and the Philippines. The commission even initiated a grassroots effort where they met in person with disabled refugees. This type of work helps to bridge the gap between local agencies and vulnerable populations in desperate need.

Handicap International first formed in 1982 to assist Cambodian landmine victims in Thailand. In 1984, it began working in Myanmar with disabled refugees. Since that time, the organization has been the co-winner of a Nobel Peace Prize, supported millions of disabled refugees and fought for the rights and safety of vulnerable populations living in disaster zones and areas of conflict throughout the world.

Handicap International’s reach now extends beyond two million people in nearly 60 countries. In 2008, the organization participated in drafting the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Now, it is committed to advocating for the disabled with further ratification. It is also actively involved with preparedness education for people with disabilities. This way, if disaster strikes or armed conflict erupts, local officials have a plan for equitable access to food and humanitarian aid.

In December 2016, observing the International Day of Disabled Persons, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, “Much remains to be accomplished before persons with disabilities can realize their full potential as an equal member of society. We must eliminate the stereotypes and discrimination that perpetuate their exclusion and build an accessible, enabling and inclusive environment for all.”

Ashley Henyan

Photo: Flickr


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