Taking Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month Global


Taking Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month Global

February 20, 2009

Children with cerebral palsy in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka receive rehabilitation training. Photo credit: ORHAN

Six hundred and fifty million people in the world live with disabilities. The vast majority of them, especially those in the developing world, are denied essential services and excluded from full participation in their communities due to prejudice, stereotypes and environmental limitations. Furthermore, they are often shut out of important advocacy opportunities due to stigma and physical hurdles that result when conference rooms and event arenas are not made accessible. In other words, some of the world's most marginalized voices aren't just left out – they are completely unheard.

February is the first annual Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, an opportunity for the Jewish community to raise its consciousness about those who experience physical or mental challenges. Given its commitment to the world's must vulnerable peoples, AJWS has recently expanded its grantmaking to include organizations around the world that focus on people with disabilities, especially those organizations led by disabled people themselves. Such opportunities help people with disabilities to strengthen their voices and demand justice, creating communities of activists and advocates.

People living with disabilities in the developing world experience multiple intersections of oppression, which can include poverty, gender discrimination and severely limited access to essential services. In much of the developing world, people with disabilities cannot afford or obtain quality health care. Ninety-eight percent of children with disabilities in developing countries receive no formal education. Women with disabilities face an unemployment rate that is virtually 100% in many developing countries.

An important milestone toward full rights for people with disabilities was the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2006. Since then, 48 countries have ratified the convention, which pledges to fully ensure and protect the rights of people living with disabilities. This treaty, the first of the 21st century, emphasizes the importance of including people with disabilities in the development of laws, policies and programs.

To promote these values, AJWS has partnered with the Disability Rights Fund, a grantmaking organization that supports disabled people's organizations in the developing world. AJWS supports several organizations around the world that are at the cutting edge of support, services and empowerment for people living with disabilities.

Peru: Giving Disabled Rural and Urban Women a Voice

"In Peru, people discriminate against us, they close us in our homes," says Patricia, a young woman from Lima who is paralyzed from her waist to her feet.  In both urban and rural areas of Peru, women living with disabilities are often treated as a source of shame. MUSAS (Mujeres que Inspiramos Cambios, or Women Who Inspire Changes) is the only grassroots network in Peru dedicated to advocating for equal opportunities for women with disabilities.

MUSAS addresses discrimination, violence, poverty and lack of employment opportunities by giving women with disabilities alliance-building opportunities. MUSAS provides trainings, public debates, collaborations with local organizations, education scholarships and advocacy with the Peruvian Congress. In Peru's rural areas, a MUSAS radio program reaches isolated communities to teach them more about their rights.

According to Señora Rosenda, a woman with disabilities who was shut in her home for 15 years: "As a result of the workshops, I have regained my space, broken my limits and done things that I couldn't have previously imagined. In our dance workshop, I dance and move. I can't move my whole body physically, but I close my eyes and I can move my feet and feel the music, and I see myself dancing. I have changed. I think we have all changed. We have broken many limits to be independent."

Sri Lanka: Helping Disabled Children in Conflict Zones to Learn and Grow

Sri Lanka continues to be embroiled in a vicious civil war. In this climate, children who are disabled, either naturally or due to war injuries, are a particularly vulnerable and underserved population.

ORHAN (the Organization for Rehabilitation of the Handicapped) was founded to enable people with disabilities to realize equal rights and equal opportunities. Through its partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, AJWS is supporting ORHAN to provide comprehensive rehabilitation to 160 children with disabilities in northern Sri Lanka, including medical screening and treatment, provision of assistive devices, psychosocial counseling, daily living skills training and educational and cultural activities.

"ORHAN's work to provide community-based rehabilitation is so important because it helps lift the burden from women who take care of disabled children in the family," says Stella Victor, AJWS's in-country consultant for Sri Lanka. "Through ORHAN's training mothers get psychological relief. ORHAN also provides important livelihood support to these families, and ensures that children with special needs are getting an education. Nobody was addressing this before."

Organizations like MUSAS and ORHAN are stepping in to fill the void left when people with disabilities are excluded. Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month provides an important first step to ensuring that these critical voices are recognized and empowered on a global scale.