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World Vision staff member helps a young girl in a wheelchair to take care of her family's cow
25 November 2021

A better future, fit for everyone

By Aimyleen Gabriel, Senior Child Protection Programme Adviser, World Vision UK

How children with disabilities are showing us a world of possibilities

Before COVID-19, I was fortunate to have had many opportunities to visit World Vision’s programmes and always looked forward to listening to children in the meetings. To me, this was the highlight of my visits because the conversations are often enjoyable and rich, and I go away enlightened by their stories.

It’s rare though, to meet children with disabilities. It’s not unusual that communities often hide children with disabilities to shelter them from discrimination and stigma. A common belief also exists that children with disabilities have ‘lower capacity’ to do things or to express themselves. Despite efforts to push for inclusion, children with disabilities often remain invisible and unheard in society.

A new report estimates that close to 240 million children in the world have disabilities – that is, 1 in every 10 children. Often, they fare worse than children without disabilities in almost every aspect of life. For example, in the study, it was found that about 40% have never attended school, over half are more likely to have symptoms of acute respiratory tract infection – symptomatic of a lack of necessities, difficulties in communicating with others and often other co-existing health conditions. And they’re more likely to be unhappy. Children with disabilities are also more likely to experience severe corporal punishment.

In particular, girls with disabilities are often even more disadvantaged compared to their male peers. With COVID-19, millions of children, especially those with disabilities, faced elevated risks due to lack of education, and greater exposure to physical, sexual and emotional violence at home and in their communities.

But what if the tide turned? What if children with disabilities weren’t marginalised? What if they could play a lead role, give the cues or sit at the tables where decisions are made? What possibilities would unfold?

As I look at our work at World Vision, I am inspired by what children can do – and even more so by what children with disabilities can do! Let me tell you what I mean.

Kenya: Campaigning for education

In Kenya, children with disabilities campaigned alongside local advocacy groups for inclusive government services. And as a result, about 1.4 million Kenyan shillings (c£9,000) were allocated to ensure access to basic services for children and adults with disabilities. Children with disabilities were registered for the health insurance fund and referred to education institutions that can support their unique learning needs.

These efforts have also stirred more community groups to raise awareness of the difficulties and stigma faced by children with disabilities. Through partnership with the government, teachers and parents are being trained to better support children with disabilities.

A young girl wearing pink traditional style Chinese blouse, sits at her desk smiling
12-year-old Xiaobing, in China, is learning vital life skills to improve her independence, regardless of visual impairment.

India: Our Voice

In India, at least 7,000 children with disabilities have taken part in Our Voice assemblies to learn about their rights, discuss their issues, and advocate on their concerns with government authorities. Consequently, schools are becoming more disability-friendly, and children with disabilities have easier access to government services as well as participating more actively in policy and decision-making in their own communities.

Now I know I am not less than anybody. I can speak up about my rights, and I know my rights. - Rekha, India

Change that includes persons with disability – and in particular children with disabilities – is possible if we make a deliberate effort to challenge our own biases; an important barrier to inclusion.

Breaking barriers

I have seen breakthroughs when barriers are dismantled and an enabling and supportive environment for children with disabilities is created. For example, when parents whose children have disabilities are provided with helpful knowledge and are linked to appropriate early education services and specialised support, their children’s overall wellbeing increases and they have higher chances of enjoying success later in life.

Expanding livelihood opportunities for parents with disabilities, especially for women, has allowed parents to provide for a better life for their children. Even in emergencies, communities become safer and more accessible for everyone when the needs of children with disabilities are prioritised. In various countries, World Vision is a witness to inspiring transformations when people unite to tackle the barriers that exclude persons with disability.

A teenage girl sits in her new wheelchair and smiles
Mwikali, 14 in Kenya

International Day of Persons with Disability

3 December is the International Day of Persons with Disability. On this day, we are in solidarity in celebrating the rights of every person with a disability and in promoting together a just and inclusive world. This is the day when they are at the centre stage and not on the sidelines.

But I hope that we take a stride not only on this day, but in every day, to see the power within every girl, boy, woman and man with a disability and to embrace their unique contributions.

And who knows, one day we may unlock a world of possibilities for a better future fit for everyone.

Learn more