According to the World Health Organization, disability can be defined as limitation to activities, impairments and restriction of participation. Limitation to activity includes all difficulties encountered by a person while trying to execute a routine action, impairment includes all problems related to the structure or the functioning of the body while restriction of participation involves the challenges an individual is faced with in dealing with situations of daily life. Disability therefore does not only involve the features and functioning of the individual’s body but also the interactions and structures in the society.
Consequently, an individual is considered disabled or to have a disability depending on the standard established in a given society. Therefore an individual may be considered a disabled in one society but does not qualify to be a disabled person in another society due to the difference in the society’s standards. Moreover, an individual may be considered a disabled by the society but according to his own personal standards, he or she in not disabled. It is also important to note that an individual can be born with a disability or can occur during the individual’s lifetime (Barnes et al, 2003).
There are several types of disability which includes impairment of the mind or cognitive abilities, impairment of senses or impairment of motor functions. This physical or mental impairment affects the ability of the individual to carry day to day routines. Sensory impairment visual and hearing disabilities. A large number of people around the world suffer from varying levels of visual disabilities which includes blindness, ocular trauma, scratches in the cornea or sclera or dryness in the eyes. Hearing disability on the other hand includes partial or complete deaf which is a born with condition or can occur during the individual’s lifetime.
While individuals who are partially deaf can live a normal life by using hearing aids, complete deaf rely on sign language which is as complex and diverse as the oral languages. Impairment of the motor function may be as a result of a severe injury which results into a spinal code injury. Such injuries may result into permanent or temporary disabilities which is either incomplete or complete. In complete injury, the working of the sensory organs is completely lost while in incomplete injury, there is no total dis-function of the messages transmission.
Such disability can also result from a natural defect an individual is born with. Mind disability can either result from a natural defect or injury in the brain. Other brain impairments include cognitive disabilities and psychological disorders. These disabilities affect the learning abilities of the individuals or leads to problems such as psychiatric problems, emotional problems and behaviour disturbances. Other forms of disabilities include physical and mobility disabilities (Marks, 1999). Disability and development
Statistics indicates that people living with disability form the largest minority group in the world. Moreover, majority of them especially in developing countries are marginalised and disadvantaged. This has resulted into a significant linkage of physical and mental impairment with poverty. It is estimated that about ten percent of the world or over six hundred million people around the world live with various forms of disabilities. Majority of these impaired individuals (about eighty percent) come from the developing countries.
Statistics also indicates that the rate of disability among women is much higher compared to the rate in women. Moreover, due to the social stigma and unfair treatment in which individuals living with disabilities are exposed to around the world, almost 90 percent of children born with disabilities in the underdeveloped countries and poor neighbourhoods do not have access to basic services such as appropriate education (Barnes & Mercer, 2003). The linkage between poverty and disability especially in the developing countries is not in doubt.
This is not only because disability can lead to poverty but also because disabilities can be as a result of poverty. Poverty in developing world is associated with malnutrition in children which affects their physical and mental development, poor or inadequate health facilities and sanitation and risky living and working environment which exposes them to injuries. On the other hand, disability limits individual’s abilities such as attainment of education and professional training, ability to secure a job, participation in daily social functions and indeed all facets of life.
The linkage between equality, poverty and disability and the suffering associated with physical and mental disability in the developing world has attracted attention from policy makers and international organisations such as the United Nations and World Bank among others. It is however very unfortunate that statistics from different parts of the world on people living with disabilities is very scanty. The availability of reliable and quality data from developing countries for international comparison on the problems facing people living with disability has emerged to be an important problem.
Such statistics are essential in the planning of intervention programs, their implementation and evaluation of the programs. It is important to note that this is one of the major problems facing people living with disabilities in the developing countries. The culture and attitudes of the people towards people living with disabilities in developing countries has limited the collection of data as well as the effectiveness of the intervention programs aimed at uplifting their living conditions.
For example, the view of disability as a curse has always resulted into disabled children being hidden by their families and consequently lacking access to basic education and social life (Keys & Dowrick, 2001). Compared to people living with disability in developed countries, those living in developing countries are faced with a wide range of problems. People living with disability such as sensory impairment or physical impairment require special facilities as well as special trained care takers for them to live a normal life (Barbotte, 2001).
These facilities and services may not be available or are inadequate in developing countries due to financial constrains among other factors. Moreover, people living with disabilities have been subjected to discrimination and exploitation by their family members, the society and in workplaces due to lack of proper policies and laws that protect them in many developing countries. It is also important to note that due to unavailability of support programs in the developing countries, people living with disability is a big burden for family members who have to take care of them (DePoy & Gilson, 2004).
There are various programs and policies that have been put in place by different government and international organisations to promote the welfare of people living with disabilities. One of the most notable policy and support program worldwide was the agreement on the Convection on the Rights of Persons with Disability by the United Nations in 2006 (UN, 2006). This is the most important international treaty in the recent past that aims at protecting and improving the position of the people living with disability in the society as well as their rights as human beings.
Governments which are signatories to this treaty are expected to adopt laws that ensure equality for the people living with disabilities in education, health care, employment, ownership of property, family life and other aspects of life and protection from being used in medical experiment. Other international organisations that have partnered in research and support programs concern with people living with disabilities includes the World Bank, the World Health Organisation among other international and national agencies and civil societies around the world.
In Malawi, the people living with disability continue to suffer in poverty just as in other developing countries. The number of individuals in the country who are considered to be disables is estimated to about 4. 6 million. People living with disabilities in the country are statistically the poorest individuals in the country with majority of them living on less than a dollar per day. Similar statistics have also been observed in other African countries. However, this does not suggest that nothing has been done in the country to promote the welfare of people living with disability.
There has been an increased concern over the social and economic welfare of the disabled persons with civil rights taking center stage. Many of the programs have been focused on the social and physical environment that promotes the socialisation and participation of disabled persons. However, there is much more that needs to be done in the country to promote the welfare of the disabled in Malawi. For example, it has been found that majority of people living with disability in Malawi have no access to basic education while those who have access achieve less due to lack of adequate facilities.
Moreover, a good number of disabled people who need assistive devices do not have them while many public facilities can not be easily accessed by people with disabilities. The rate of employment and income is also lower compared to the rest of the society (Loeb & Arne, 2004). Government policies and implementation Whenever the society is faced with a problem, it is the moral responsibility of the relevant authority to take relevant policy measures to solve the problem. Public policy has consequently become a very important area of study in the modern world.
A policy can be defined as any action taken by the authorities to solve a problem or problems facing the society. It involves to act or not to act, to implement a program or not to, decision on which program to implement, the selection of the main objectives of the program and the decision to continue, change or terminate the existing programs. It is important to note that public policy is a complex issue. It is therefore possible for a problem in the society to be identified and considered an important policy issue by the relevant authorities but this does not mean that a policy to that effect will be developed and implemented.
Even if a policy to solve an existing problem has been developed, taking an action or not is still subject to the reluctance or willingness to act and the feasibility of the course of action in solving the problem in question. Whether the action was as a result of deliberate decision making process or not is also not easy to establish. There are several cases where problems facing the society are either discarded or dismissed by the relevant authority or solving the problem is delegated to other institutions or decision making bodies.
There are several factors that influence the policy process which includes the institutional structures, the availability of resources, the culture and traditions, experience of the players in the process among other factors (Eagles & Johnston, 2008). Due to the many factors and actors involved in the policy process, the formulation and implementation of the policy is faced with many challenges. The deciding, development and implementation of the policy involves different individuals and institutions with diverse ideas.
Therefore, lack of guidance in every aspect of the policy process and ownership of the whole process will therefore lead to an inappropriate policy. However, the greatest influence of the policy process in any democratic country should be the people being governed. The decisions made by the government or arms of government should be in the best interest of the general public. It is also important to note that by the people bestowing authority to their leaders, it implies consent to make decisions on their behalf and therefore the decisions made by such authorities are legitimate (Eagles & Johnston, 2008).
It is important to note that there are many policies that have been formulated in the developing countries but persons living with disabilities continue to suffer in poverty. This is because many of these policies have not been implemented. There is a general assumption that once these policies have been developed, they will be implemented. There is a tendency of government and relevant decision making bodies formulating very broad policies but there is lack of political free will to implement the policies which are further limited by bureaucratic structures in the implementation process.
Different factions in the government interest groups and a wide range of persons or groups of persons affected by the policy process influence the implementation process of the formulated policies. Consequently, policy issues involving people living with disabilities are not priority issues. It is therefore essential to involve social movement and lobby groups in pushing for the formulation and implementation of policy issues in the country. By creating tension, the individuals bestowed with the powers to make policies and implement them will be compelled to act in the best interest of the public. Interventions
One of the central objectives of sustainable global development as stipulated in the millennium development goals is reduction of poverty level. The interests of disabled people are implicitly included in the global development goals. For example, the goal of basic education for all is one of the basic objectives of MDGs but it cannot be attained with a large number of disabled children being unable to access appropriate educational facilities. The need to formulate and implement policies that are aimed at promoting the capacity of people living with disability in the society is inevitable if the development goals have to be achieved.
Integration of the people living with disability socially and economically is not an issue of participation but also promoting prerequisites that promote their economic and social development (Trani et al, 2009). One of the important changes that need to be implemented in the policy process is mainstreaming of the persons living with disabilities’ interest in policy issues involving their welfare. For example, it has been noted that in poverty reduction strategy papers in many third world countries which is a World Bank and other partners’ initiative, disabled persons have not been involved in the processes (Robert, 2000).
Despite the facts about the linkage between disability and poverty, disabled individuals have not been involved in poverty reduction strategies. However, international organisations and donors have identified this problem and have started implementing policies that are aimed at financing people living with disabilities and their welfare such as education, self employment, essential facilities and health (Filmer, 2008). Capacity building and increasing the access to information and communication technology for people living with disability is also an important policy and development issue.
The modern world is powered by information and communication technology and therefore training and increased access to technology is essential in capacity building, reduction of poverty and empowering people living with disability. This will offer them an opportunity to meet their special needs in acquiring knowledge as well as adopting the new technology. Moreover, through technology, integration into the larger society will be enhanced.
Due to the power of information and communication technology, its use in providing the special needs for people living with disabilities has become an important political and social issue throughout the country. Special interventions in the case of people living with disability in Malawi are long over due. There is an inevitable need to improve the living conditions and welfare of people living with disabilities in the country. This can be done through development of appropriate national policies to support disabled individuals and their families.
These policies include legislatures that mainstream disabled persons and provision of appropriate educational and survival facilities. Changes in the decision making process should also be changed to increase the influence of the public and mainly the affected persons through disabled people organisations. Over the years, the disabled society has not been a priority in decision making process; fewer resources have been allocated in the promotion of disabled people welfare and they are underrepresented in decision making processes due to lack of political power and activism skills.
This calls for capacity building for disabled people organisations to increase lobbying, increasing support through networks and coordination of different groups and building skills among disabled persons to promote their influence in policy process. It is also important to promote lobbying of policy makers for development and implementation of disability policies while increasing the awareness of how policies affect the disabled in the society. Conclusion Statistics indicates that about ten percent of the world population is living with disability making them the largest minority group in the world.
Majority of these disabled persons live in developing countries where there are no adequate resources and facilities that are essential for them to live a normal life. Moreover, disability has long been associated with poverty where disability leads to chronic poverty or poverty leads to disability. In developing countries such as Malawi, disabled persons constitute the poorest group in the country due to poor education, lack of employment and other social and cultural factors. Being a major social problem, policies need to be formulated and implemented to promote the welfare of people living with disabilities.
It is also important to note that policy issues involving disabled people have over the years not been a priority where they have not been involved in development and poverty reduction strategies. Reference Barbotte, E. , F. Guillemin, N. Chau, and the Lorhandicap Group, (2001). “Prevalence of impairments, disabilities, handicaps and quality of life in the general population: a review of recent literature,” Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 79(11): 1047-55 Barnes, C, & Mercer, G. (2003). Disability, ISBN 0745625096, Wiley-Blackwell
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