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Unequal Treatment Drives Disability Rights Movement

Activists from the National Platform for the Rights of Disabled Persons demonstrate in New Delhi in April 2010
Activists from the National Platform for the Rights of Disabled Persons demonstrate in New Delhi in April 2010

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

New estimates show that more than one billion people have a physical or mental disability. Experts say almost one-fifth of them experience serious difficulties in their daily lives as a result of their disability. And disability rates are increasing as populations get older and more people get long-term conditions, like heart disease and diabetes.

The estimates are in a report from the World Health Organization and the World Bank. The World Report on Disability says few countries do enough to meet the needs of the disabled.

They face problems like discrimination and a lack of health care and other services. They have higher poverty rates and lower education levels than other people. This is true in both rich and poor countries.

Cindy Lewis is the director of programs for an organization called Mobility International USA. Ms. Lewis says people with disabilities helped write the new report. One of its messages is that people with disabilities should not only receive services -- they should also help design and provide them.

Ms. Lewis says that way they can become decision makers and policy makers.

CINDY LEWIS: "People with disabilities are a huge and untapped resource for governments, communities, for development programs. And that is a big problem that we are working on addressing."

Ms. Lewis says in many countries, people with disabilities are organizing to support disability rights.

CINDY LEWIS: "It’s a very incorrect assumption that people with disabilities are in their community sitting around passively waiting for something good to happen. People with disabilities around the world are getting together and mobilizing and speaking out."

Her group is working with the United States Agency for International Development. The projects bring together disability groups and development organizations in Colombia, Jordan and Ethiopia.

For example, Fundamental is an organization in Colombia for people with mental illness. This group is training its members to become leaders in explaining their problems and urging their communities to treat them fairly.

The Ethiopian National Association of the Blind helped write a training document on how to include blind people in education projects.

The United Nations has a human rights treaty called the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Almost one hundred fifty governments and regional organizations have signed it.

The World Health Organization and the World Bank say people with disabilities should be able to use the same services as everyone else. They call for more laws to give the disabled the same rights and chances to succeed as everyone else. These laws, they say, will help the public understand that people with disabilities also have abilities.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Karen Leggett. I'm Barbara Klein.