Signal’s International Programmes Assistant, Cara Shaw, reports on the messages around disability emerging from the annual conference of Bond, the UK network of organisations working in international development…
Back in 2000, the United Nations’ members met to agree shared goals for international development. These became known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and have been the focus of efforts to tackle poverty around the world for the past 14 years. Now, in 2014, world leaders and non-governmental organisations are agreeing a new set of goals for the next phase of international development work.
Redefining Development was the theme for this year’s annual Bond conference. I went along to the session on disability to hear what politicians and representatives of fellow international development charities had to say about including disabled people in the next international development agenda.
The panel of speakers included Sir Malcolm Bruce MP, who has spent many years fighting for the rights of disabled people, particularly deaf people. Gillian Morbey, Chief Executive of Sense and Sense International, chaired the discussion.
Disability, poverty & invisibility
Sir Malcolm began by saying that all over the world, disabled people face higher levels of poverty than non-disabled people. One billion people in the world are disabled and 80% of these live in developing countries. That’s 800 million people, and many of these are children.
We know that children with disabilities are less likely to start school and more likely to fail or drop out – it’s thought that 90% of disabled children in Africa do not go to school. What’s more, children with sensory impairments (such as hearing loss) tend to do even worse in school than children with physical impairments.
The panel members went on to say that the biggest problem surrounding disability is its invisibility. In many countries, deaf and disabled people, particularly children, are kept out of sight and out of mind.
This is why at Signal we work with our partners in Africa to identify children who are deaf. Our holistic approach means we provide awareness and communication training to family members, teachers and community leaders, as well as deaf children and young people themselves. When families and community leaders learn about the possibilities of education, many are surprised their deaf child can attend school and learn alongside non-deaf children.
In the regions where we work, schools can have very little support for learners with special educational needs (SEN). This is why we also provide teachers with information and training in SEN. Sometimes, something as simple as sitting a deaf child at the front of the classroom, or letting a deaf child see your face as you talk, can make all the difference between that child understanding and not.
By targeting the whole community, we aim to change people’s attitudes towards deafness and disability and ensure that deaf children and young people can participate fully in their family and community life.
Leave no one behind
At the end of the session, all the speakers agreed that the next international development agenda should commit to “leaving no one behind.” All around the world, deaf and disabled people face higher levels of poverty, poorer educational attainment, higher unemployment and higher levels of violence and abuse than non-disabled people.
Together with our partners, at Signal we are working to change this. By making a commitment to leave no one behind, we hope that those agreeing the next set of development goals will pay particular and deserved attention to the needs of deaf and disabled people.