Promoting empowerment and access for all: lessons from Disabled People's Organisations

Hannah Lorryman.
Author:Hannah Loryman
Posted on: Thursday, 3rd December, 2015

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Today we are celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This day, which happens every year on the 3 December, is an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of including people with disabilities in all areas of society. Each year the United Nations sets a theme, this year it is Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities.

We talk about access a lot, and it is hugely important. People with disabilities need to be able to access all the same services and opportunities as people without – they need to be able to go to school, access health care and earn an income. They may also need access to specific services – such as rehabilitation or assistive devices, such as wheelchairs.

What is meant by empowerment is less obvious. But it is equally, if not more, important. Empowerment is about people being able to have a voice and take control of their own lives and futures. All people, whether they have a disability or not, need to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives.

People with disabilities know best what barriers they face, and they are able to identify what they need to overcome them. If people with disabilities aren’t involved in the development of programmes and policies then the likelihood is that they will continue to be excluded from them. People with disabilities need to be able to participate in decision making at all levels – from community to global decision making, so that they are not passive recipients of aid, but included in their own development.

I recently got back from the Philippines, where I spent some time with members of local Disabled People’s Organisations who were receiving support from CBM and partners. Here I saw how important empowerment is to unlock the potential of people with disabilities and to deliver real change.

Being part of a Disabled Person’s Organisation had transformed many of their lives. Before being involved in these groups, some of them were isolated in their communities, but now they have an increased awareness of their rights and the opportunities available to them and have become key members of their communities.

One group has been counting the number of people with disabilities in their district, with this information they can go to their government and demand that they meet their needs. Someone else told us about how after one of their group was killed by a police officer, they came together and made sure that the police officer was arrested and charged. Others were making sure that schools in their area had the right policies in place – so that children with disabilities were able to receive an education.

By having a voice and being able to take control of their own lives - they have not only been able to change their own lives – but also the lives of others.

In less than a month, the Sustainable Development Goals, which were agreed by world leaders in September, will come into action. They commit countries to eradicating poverty, fighting inequality and reducing the impact of climate change by 2030. Crucially for CBM, and for the one billion people with disabilities globally, this new agenda pledges to ‘Leave no one behind.’

As part of their training in the Philippines, participants learnt about the Sustainable Development Goals and linked them to issues that affect their everyday lives. They now have the information they need to go their government as say ‘you signed up to this, so this is the action you need to take.’

The Sustainable Development Goals are a once in a generation opportunity to create an equal and inclusive society where people with disabilities have the same access to opportunities as those without. If people with disabilities are able to raise their voice and demand their rights – the impact could be truly transformative.

This week to celebrate International day for Persons with Disabilities, we will be sharing ten stories of people with disability from around the world.

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