December 3rd is the International Day of Disabled Persons. The goal is to promote a better understanding of disabilities and encourage respect and dignity. On this date in 1982, the United Nations committed itself to promoting full participation of the disabled in society.
Samantha Rennie is the director of Handicap International in Britain. From Surrey, she spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about Friday’s commemoration: “It aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and particularly to mobilize support for the rights of disabled people around the world.”
Ms. Rennie says there is still a great deal of stigma and discrimination attached to being disabled. “There is indeed. In fact, people’s attitudes are probably the single biggest barrier that disabled people face. Handicap International, we work in about 60 countries overseas providing development support as well as emergency relief. And we find particularly with a lot of overseas aid and development programs that disability issues are just not addressed at all.”
The World Health organization estimates there are about 600 million disabled people around the world or about 10 percent of the population. Eighty percent of all disabled people, says the WHO, are in developing countries.
Ms. Rennie says, “Poverty and disability are very closely related. Many disabilities are caused by poverty and poverty exacerbates the difficulties that disabled people face.”
Getting the disabled into the education system is one of the goals of handicap International. The Handicap International official says, “It helps them to learn to read and write, to gain the skills that can help them become self-sufficient…but also to become economically independent and productive.” Having them in the mainstream education system also helps to change attitudes simply by making them more visible.