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The State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities

The State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities

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Published by UNICEF
The 2013 edition of The State of the World’s Children is dedicated to the situation of children with disabilities. The report examines the barriers – from inaccessible buildings to dismissive attitudes, from invisibility in official statistics to vicious discrimination – that deprive children with disabilities of their rights and keep them from participating fully in society. It also lays out some of the key elements of inclusive societies that respect and protect the rights of children with disabilities, adequately support them and their families, and nurture their abilities – so that they may take advantage of opportunities to flourish and make their contribution to the world.
The 2013 edition of The State of the World’s Children is dedicated to the situation of children with disabilities. The report examines the barriers – from inaccessible buildings to dismissive attitudes, from invisibility in official statistics to vicious discrimination – that deprive children with disabilities of their rights and keep them from participating fully in society. It also lays out some of the key elements of inclusive societies that respect and protect the rights of children with disabilities, adequately support them and their families, and nurture their abilities – so that they may take advantage of opportunities to flourish and make their contribution to the world.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: UNICEF on May 30, 2013
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Children with disabilities should not be treated or

regarded simply as the recipients of charity. They

have the same rights as others – among these,

the right to life and to the opportunities that flow

from good health care, nutrition and education,

(continued on p. 9)

THE STATE OF THE WORLD’S CHILDREN 2013: Children with Disabilities

4

I was born in London in 1986

and have a condition called

osteogenesis imperfecta, com-

monly known as brittle bones.

Many children with brittle bones

grow up protected – overpro-

tected, some might say – from

any possibility of hurting them-

selves. My parents wanted me

to be safe, but they also wanted

me to have the opportunity to

play, make friends and lead as

normal a childhood as possible.

In the 1980s, inclusive education

was still a fairly new concept.

Like most parents of a disabled

child, mine were advised to

send me to a special school.

My mother is a teacher, and

after visiting the recommended

school she was convinced that

it would provide a substandard

education. My parents have

always used my older sister

Katy, who did not have a dis-

ability, to gauge what is accept-

able for me: If they thought

something wasn’t good enough

for Katy, then it wasn’t good

enough for me.

I was the first child with a dis-

ability to attend my primary

school, and in many ways I felt

like a guinea pig for inclusion.

For example, despite having a

positive attitude towards includ-

ing me in all aspects of school

life, my teachers lacked experi-

ence in how to adapt physical

education so that I could get

involved in a meaningful way.

Like most childhoods, mine

wasn’t always easy. I spent a

lot of time in hospital, and even

within an ‘inclusive’ mainstream

education system, there were

times when I was excluded.

For example, I wasn’t allowed

to go to my nursery Christmas

party because the teachers were

worried I would break a bone.

Also, at high school they had a

separate table in the canteen for

children with disabilities and the

teachers could not understand

why I refused to sit at it. Despite

setbacks and obstacles, how-

ever, I managed to flourish both

educationally and socially.

I was always encouraged to try

new things. My extracurricular

activities included swimming,

ballet, wheelchair tennis, drama

and singing. In many of these,

I was also the only child with a

disability. Interestingly, I often

found these groups more inclu-

sive than school in terms of

how much I could participate

and contribute. I felt wanted

and people found creative

ways for me to get involved.

Nonetheless, there were many

things I found difficult to do

because of my limited mobility.

I would sometimes feel upset

because I couldn’t do things as

well as the other children, and

as I grew older and more self-

conscious, I became reluctant to

put myself in situations where

my difficulties were on show.

In my teenage years a lot of my

friends went through phases

of being a ‘goth’ or a ‘rude

girl’, which involved dressing

or behaving in ways designed

to attract attention. Whilst they

were doing everything they

From pioneer to advocate
for inclusion

PERSPECTIVE

Nancy Maguire is a disability

activist from the United Kingdom.

She is a qualified social worker but,

after travelling abroad, decided to

campaign for the rights of people

with disabilities, especially young

women. She has worked with

disabled people’s organizations

in Asia and Southern Africa, and

hopes to obtain a Master’s degree

in policy and development.

By Nancy Maguire

5

INTRODUCTION

could to stand out and be dif-

ferent, I was desperate to be

‘normal’ and fit in. Growing up

with a disability, I received a lot

of attention. People in the street

would often stare at me, make

comments and ask my parents,

“What’s wrong with her?” I had

days when I was able to brush it

off, but no amount of resilience

or family support can stop that

from affecting you.

I developed extremely low self-

esteem and poor body image,

made worse because I was

significantly overweight. I found

exercise difficult, and like many

girls my age, I ate to comfort

myself. I had also internalized

the medical terminology that

was used to describe me – in

particular the word ‘deformed’

(I had a curvature of the spine,

since corrected). When I was 14,

I developed an eating disorder,

partly because I wanted to lose

weight – but also because my

weight felt like one aspect of my

physical appearance that I could

actually control.

Although I had incredibly

supportive family and friends,

being disabled was never some-

thing I viewed as a positive

thing. I thought I had to over-

come it, like adversity. I became

obsessed with being as ‘undis-

abled’ as possible, and I was

convinced that if I could walk,

my life would be a lot better.

Ironically, although I no longer

use a wheelchair, in many ways

I feel more aware of my disability

than ever. People still make com-

ments about me because I have

small stature, and make assump-

tions about my life and ability;

I always have to prove myself,

particularly in the workplace.

Though I am not defined by my

disability, it has been pivotal in

shaping who I am and what

I have achieved. Having a disabil-

ity is now something I embrace:

I no longer see it as a negative

thing or something I should be

embarrassed about. In many

ways being disabled has worked

to my advantage and created

opportunities that might never

have been available to me –

like writing this article.

Every child’s experience is

different. I come from a lower-

middle-class family in the United

Kingdom, where I had access

to free health care and a good

education. But I strongly believe

that the issues of belonging,

self-esteem and aspiration

transcend such distinctions as

gender, class and nationality.

To develop a greater sense of

self-worth, children with

disabilities need the opportunity

to participate and contribute in

all aspects of their lives.

People with disabilities are

becoming more visible in many

walks of life – in politics and

the media, for example. This

is instrumental in improving

children’s perceptions of what

they can achieve. When I was

growing up, the only role model

I had was Stevie Wonder.

I admired him because he was

a successful and respected

musician despite being blind.

However, it would have helped

me to see people with disabili-

ties doing everyday jobs – as

teachers, doctors or shopkeep-

ers. I think that would also have

helped my parents. My mum

said that when I was a child,

she tried not to think about

my future because it made her

scared. She knew that I was

capable but feared that my

options would be limited.

As it turns out, my disability has

not prevented me from achiev-

ing any of the important things.

I am a qualified social worker,

passed my driving test when

I was 16, left home when I was

19 and have lived and worked

in Asia and Africa. In the future

I hope to be an advocate for

children with disabilities on an

international level, as I passion-

ately believe in the inalienable

human rights and untapped

potential of these children.

People with disabilities are becoming more visible in many walks

of life – in politics and the media, for example. This is instrumental

in improving children’s perceptions of what they can achieve.

THE STATE OF THE WORLD’S CHILDREN 2013: Children with Disabilities

6

THE STATE OF THE WORLD’S CHILDREN 2013: Children with Disabilities

6

I was born in Mwanza, the

second largest city in the

United Republic of Tanzania.

I am the eldest son and live

with my siblings and parents in

Dodoma, the capital. There are

six children in our family; one

of my sisters and one of my

brothers are also albinos.

The impairments caused by

my condition make life very

difficult. I always have trouble

with the sun and have to cover

up with heavy, long-sleeved

clothing and wear sunglasses

to protect my eyes. I also have

troubles at school. Sometimes

I can’t see the blackboard, and

I always have to sit in the

shade. This country does

not have sufficient vision-

enhancing technology, such

as glasses, magnifiers and

special computer equipment,

and without it children with

albinism have a hard time

graduating from school and

finding employment. My family

is poor, so getting money for

school fees is also difficult.

Life is complicated even more

by the way people treat us.

There is a lot of discrimination

against people with albinism,

and I sometimes lack the com-

pany of friends. Some people

also believe horrible myths

about us: that we are not

human and never die, that

albinism is a curse from the

gods and that anyone who

touches us will be cursed.

Worst of all, practitioners of

witchcraft hunt and kill us to

use our hair, body parts and

organs in charms and potions.

For centuries some people

have believed that if they go

to a witch doctor with albino

Living with albinism,
discrimination and superstition

PERSPECTIVE

Michael Hosea was born in 1995.

He is the eldest of six children and

one of three persons with albinism

in his immediate family. He lives

in Dodoma, United Republic of

Tanzania, and is about to graduate

from school. He advocates for

the rights of young people with

disabilities, particularly those with

albinism, through the Leonard

Cheshire Disability Young Voices

network.

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