There's a plan for the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, and in the plan there's an aim: to "Leave no one behind". If it is to effectively achieve its aim, then the inclusion of disability as a key development consideration is crucial.
But the picture today isn't great.
As if living in severe poverty isn't hard enough, people living with disability are more likely to be in poor general health and are less likely to be able to get work to support themselves and their families. Those two things, coupled with widespread stigma often associated with disability, means that people living with disability are often on the fringes of society, struggling to access any services that do exist.
People living with disability also have something to offer. They don't deserve to be hidden away, marginalised and mistreated. Addressing misconceptions and doing away with the stigma associated with disability is key to seeing real change.
"Those of us with disabilities have a fundamental role to play in the diverse society that is developing." Lenin Moreno, Secretary-General Special Envoy of Disability and Accessibility
The difficulties that people with disabilities experience in a country like Bangladesh are replicated in many developing countries. People with disabilities are socially stigmatised and are often at risk of abuse, exploitation and neglect. The chance of becoming disabled is higher and living conditions worse, due to issues such as:
It's a challenging context, but locally-led NGOs like Impact Foundation Bangladesh (IFB) and the Centre for Services and Information on Disabilities (CSID), two winners of Stars Impact Awards, are working hard to improve the lives of the 16 million adults and children living with disabilities in Bangladesh. And they're making real progress.
IFB knows that some disabilities can be prevented, so it educates the communities and provide corrective medical services to treatable disabilities. For children with treatable disabilities, IFB bridges the gap that usually means access to health services is limited if you are poor. Its health facilities include two hospitals, a boat hospital and a physiotherapy centre to treat physical impairments like cleft lip palate, clubfoot or cataracts. But it is through its work within the community that IFB makes the difference. By educating the community on common health risks, avoidable disability can be prevented.
The risk of birth abnormalities is greatly reduced when women have access to trained Traditional Birth Attendants. IFB teaches these birth attendants how to identify at risk pregnancies in order to refer them before it is too late. Teachers are also trained by IFB to identify and refer children with some forms of disability.
Monthly Mothers' Clubs also teach women about nutrition and how to prevent stunted growth and lowered immunity that may lead to cognitive impairments. With their knowledge and newfound confidence the women grow fruit and vegetables in their own home garden and are able to feed their children well. Thanks to IFB's large network of Mothers’ Clubs it is able to dispense life-saving vaccination campaigns against Polio or Rubella, a leading cause of disability in developing countries.
CSID is dedicated to dispelling the misconceptions associated with disability. By conducting detailed research on disabilities in Bangladesh, working to support disadvantaged children and their families, CSID advocates to change the future for people living with disability in Bangladesh.
As well as educating about what it's really like to live with a disability in Bangladesh, CSID also provides primary education for marginalised children, both with and without disabilities. By learning and playing in the same classroom, children grow up understanding that a friend with a disability is fundamentally no different from them. This inclusive education model also raises awareness among the community on the rights of people with disabilities, reducing the prejudice and discrimination that keeps people living with disability on the fringes of society.
There's a lot more to be done to make sure that people living with disabilities in developing countries are not left out of the conversation. But the work of these two organisations proves that change is happening. And it is locally-led organisations like IFB and CSID, anchored in the communities they are working with, that are ideally placed to address the issues associated with disability and help to build an inclusive and diverse society.