Last summer I had the amazing opportunity to work for the Ministry of Community and Social Services, with their Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities (ACSD) and Special Services at Home (SSAH) programs. They are government programs that provide funding to low and middle-income families to support the extraordinary needs of their child’s disability.
Being an able-bodied person, I was largely unaware of the extraordinary needs that these programs try to meet. Sure, I had an understanding of basic mobile accessibility concerns for those with physical disabilities, the need for hearing aids or materials in braille for those with sensory disabilities, and so on. However, my able-bodied privilege has meant that I have never been confronted with these challenges. Working with these programs opened up my eyes to circumstances I hadn’t previously considered: Parents searching for camps that can support their child’s physical, intellectual, or sensory disability, the HUGE transportation and travel costs associated with regular doctor’s appointments, and the list just goes on, and on, and on…
I was fortunate enough to go on home visits with special agreements officers (those that determine funding), to meet with families and learn firsthand their struggle to financially meet the needs of their child’s disability. The most moving experience was meeting an immigrant family dealing with multiple disabilities. The young daughter had a physical disability and the son had an intellectual disability. As a family unit, they all struggled with language barriers, adjusting to a new country, and poverty.
This experience got me wondering about how disability intersects with poverty and development. Over 1 billion people live with a physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental health disability worldwide. Persons with disabilities often constitute the poorest and most marginalized of all the world’s citizens, with disability being seen as both a cause and a consequence of poverty. Eighty percent of persons with disabilities live in developing countries.
Persons with disabilities face many challenges. Both in developed and developing countries, the sexuality of persons with disabilities is largely ignored, as they are [wrongly] assumed to be asexual. This means that persons with disabilities receive little to no sexual health education, their reproductive rights are ignored (think forced abortion and sterilization for example), and they often face increased rates of physical and sexual abuse. This becomes especially problematic across the Global South where the transmission of HIV is high. Without adequate access to sexual health information sensitive to the needs of varying disabilities and exclusion from HIV prevention campaigns, persons with disabilities are left at an increased risk for HIV infection. This is just one example of where disability intersects with development challenges, and where destructive misconceptions and stereotypes leave persons with disabilities continuously facing social inequalities and unnecessary vulnerability.
Where else in development do you see a lack of consideration to persons with disabilities?
I would love to hear your opinions on and experiences with disability, disability and development, or able-bodied privilege!