International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Charity offers hope for those on fringes of society

Of the one billion disabled persons in the world, roughly 80 percent live in a developing nation and face extreme hardship as a result of their disabilities

Rose Troup Buchanan
Wednesday 03 December 2014 11:18

“In any family, if there is a visually impaired person, they are thought of as useless,” claims Shyam. He lost his sight as a child.

Only 36, growing up in India’s Rajasthan state he has faced widespread discrimination from a young age - and he’s one of roughly a billion disabled people worldwide.

Almost 80 percent of disabled people live in developing countries, some in conditions similar to Shyam’s, under desperately poor circumstances where they are often the most vulnerable members of society.

He is forced to survive on a pension of 500 rupees - roughly equivalent to just £5.

“They had lost their hope,” 40-year old disabled Bhagirath, from Bikaner, India, says.

Today marks the twelfth anniversary of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a UN Enable observance promoting understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for affected persons through localised meetings, campaigns and support grants.

Bhigirath is among the luckier ones. He still works, running a flour and oil shop partly funded by grants from the Urmul Trust, a Rajasthani organisation working towards economic and social change, but he felt hopeless after an industrial accident.

“I felt all my dreams were shattered and life is useless,” he said to SightSavers Put Us in the Picture campaign. Following help he was able to get crutches and then an artificial leg, slowly rebuilding his life.

The World Health Survey, examining 51 countries around the world, recently noted that while a over 64 percent of able-bodied men were in employment, only 52 percent of men were similarly employed. The numbers for women, 29 percent against 19, bore out a similar story.

It is one that Manju understands. A botched injection in a local hospital to treat an allergic reaction left her nerves damaged and Manju in agony aged seven.

Since then Manju, now mother to three young children herself, has been unable to move without pain - or work.

“Before I never could imagine that I could do productive work,” she said. “But now…”

With help from the Urmul Trust, who worked with SightSavers locally, she has been able to find support and is working towards getting a home better suited to her. Despite being unable to move without crutches, she doesn’t have an indoors toilet - instead defecating in a nearby field - and has to remake the cow dung floor regularly.

A recent UN report emphasised that in the wake of a major disaster the poor, old and disabled suffered a “disproportionately high” impact.

“They can be left behind during evacuations or be turned away by shelters and refugee camps on the grounds that they might need complex medical care,” the report states.

With conflict raging in many parts of the world, the chances of disabled children receiving adequate help is shrinking.

A recent UN report noted an alarming resurgence of the deadly childhood disease of polio. The virus can cripple - or kill - children who have not been immunised, leaving them open to abuse or even abandonment in shifting difficulties.

The day coincides with the publication of the Government’s Disabilities Framework.

A spokesperson from SightSavers said: “This is a chance to highlight the importance of including people with disabilities in development plans and how the UK Government can show leadership in this.

“And with 2015 being when global leaders set new development goals for the next 15 years it’s critical people with disabilities don’t get left behind,” she added.

There will be a public exhibition of Graeme Robertson's photographs of the individuals featured in this article, and others, at the OXO Towers in January. The exhibition opens on 14 January.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments