VANCOUVER, Washington — Mental and physical disabilities are stigmatized, even in the most forward-thinking countries. In developing countries, disabled children are victim to extreme prejudice and neglect. Parents and caretakers often manifest their frustration through violence, while communities tend to shun or shame the child.
According to a Duke University study, 80 percent of disabled people worldwide live in the developing world. Caretakers often harshly discipline disabled children in these areas. The study found that among children with cognitive, language, vision, or hearing and motor difficulties, all were prone to violence as discipline. However, children with motor difficulties received particularly bad punishments, including psychological torment and use of physical force.
The mistreatment not only exists within the home, but in the community as well. UNICEF reports that even if a disabled child is not directly abused, they are neglected and excluded from the general population. This only serves to perpetuate the incidence of some disabilities. For example, UNICEF cites poor prenatal care as the cause of certain disabilities, as well as malnutrition and lack of essential healthcare in early life.
Neglect of disabled children not only serves to damage their physical wellbeing, but their mental capabilities as well. The BBC reports that 23 million disabled children are unable to pursue an education. A host of barriers prevent access to education, including lack of special needs facilities and shaming of the disabled. Many traditional communities believe that disabilities are a manifestation of punishment for a family, and thus handicaps are viewed in a negative light.
The education of special needs children could benefit future generations of disabled students. Though there is a distinct lack of special education professionals, a few special needs students have proven to be successful educators themselves. For example, the BBC describes the story of a young girl from Ghana who gradually lost her sight. She became a special needs teacher after attending a school for the blind, and believes that, in the future, all disabled children will have access to special education.
Education systems are being reconstructed to accommodate both disabled and non-disabled students. This advancement can be attributed to Sightsavers, an international charity working towards equality for the blind. Sightsavers advisors in Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia and Kenya are all currently training special education instructors to work in local schools.
Thus far, 15 schools in Zambia have benefited from the program, which has integrated disabled students into the school setting. By using a method called “inclusive education,” special needs students are taught by teachers who have been trained by Sightsavers special needs coordinators. This method is cost-effective, as teachers do not need years of special needs training. Additionally, integrating disabled and non-disabled students reduces stigma. Now that success has been observed, the Zambian government is now willing to put money behind the initiative.
Duke University researchers state that a basic way to improve the welfare of disabled children is through community education. The disabled are often mistreated because of a general lack of knowledge about their disabilities. Researcher Marc Bornstein explains that caregiver abuses could potentially decrease if parents are informed about “what types of interactions are most appropriate, constructive and effective for already disadvantaged youngsters.”
UNICEF agrees that special attention is necessary for disabled children. Many of these children “live with the reality of exclusion,” marking them as pariahs within their communities and even families. Integration of disabled children, while continuing to maintain mindfulness of their needs, paves the way for greater opportunities and fewer stigmas toward disabled people.
– Bridget Tobin