This week saw London host the first ever Global Disability Summit. Government ministers, donors, big businesses and international charities came together to find solutions to some of the barriers disabled people in developing countries face every single day of their lives. From stigma and discrimination, a lack of inclusive education, to economic disempowerment, the challenges are great, but the commitment to tackling them was real.
The Department for International Development must be applauded for taking a crucial first step towards improving the lives of disabled people across the developing world. But while we congratulate the Government for starting to tackle this problem, we must be under no illusion about how great a challenge this will be.
The work we do at Deaf Child Worldwide highlights the sheer scale of the problem. In developing countries deaf children are often prevented from participating fully in society and struggle to reach their potential. This is not because deafness is a learning disability, it is because of a lack of support and a lack of understanding about their deafness.
The majority of deaf children around the world are born to hearing parents who have little or no knowledge of deafness. This means these children are often unable to communicate with their mum and dad. From Bolivia to Bangladesh, parents too often struggle to learn sign language or struggle to learn other ways of communicating with their children. As a parent, I can’t think of anything more upsetting than not being able to communicate with my daughters.
Deaf children struggle to make it into the classroom too. It’s estimated that 90% of children with disabilities in developing countries will never get an education. Even for those deaf children who do make it into school, genuine access and inclusion is a rarity. Most teachers don’t have the training to properly support a deaf child, and they lack the resources to properly help them. We know of many children who make it into the classroom, but sadly receive no meaningful form of education.
Across East Africa, South Asia and Latin America we’ve been working with parents to help them communicate better with their children. In Bangladesh, we’ve worked with other NGOs to set up early intervention centres to help teach deaf children Bangla Sign Language from the earliest possible age and prepare them for school. The early years of a child’s life are critical for the development of language and communication, which is why our work in Bangladesh is so important.
We’ve also worked in Uganda educating deaf children and young people about sexual health, helped establish parent groups in South America and worked to improve access to quality primary education in Kenya.
I am proud of the work Deaf Child Worldwide does, but we can’t solve these problems on our own. The commitment to tackle the barriers disabled people face is laudable, but now we must see this rhetoric translated into action, for millions of people around the world, this couldn’t be more important.