Unlocking the potential of disabled people and giving them a fair chance to work their way out of poverty
By David Constantine
At Evenbreak we know the challenges often faced by our candidates who are seeking work. In developing countries those challenges are often magnified due to the extreme poverty that millions of disabled people live in and the shocking stigma and discrimination that remains rife. Below we hear from David Constantine, a wheelchair user, who set up the charity Motivation to help tackle these issues and empower disabled people so they can fulfil their potential.
I became a wheelchair user at the age of 21 after a diving accident in Australia, which left me quadriplegic and paralysed from the shoulders down. My life as I knew it was irrevocably changed but some 30 years later I have no regrets and actually consider myself lucky. I received excellent treatment, and expert rehabilitation, which means today I live a full and very busy life. I work full time, travel extensively and live independently making choices about what I do and how I do it.
Yet it could have been so different. If I had had my accident in Malawi or Kenya for example, I would probably not have survived, let alone been able to hold down a job.
Life expectancy for a person with a spinal cord injury in the developing world is less than two years, and many people die from preventable health complications such as pressure ulcers or urinary tract infections. Poorly fitting wheelchairs can also cause more harm than good; not only can they further damage your posture, but if they are too small or too big they can limit your independence as you are unable to propel yourself effectively and have to constantly rely on others.
Yet aside from these physical and health barriers, in developing countries ignorance about what causes disability leads to people being hidden away, abandoned and routinely shunned from everyday life. I have seen first hand the shocking stigma and discrimination still faced by disabled people living in poorer countries. I have met individuals who have simply been told that they cannot work because of their disability, and have often heard stories about the low self-esteem felt by people who have grown up being made to feel worthless or a burden on their community. This is unacceptable.
Before Jane was injured in a road traffic accident she worked as a sales and marketing manager for Kenya Tea Packers Company. Unable to travel as much, Jane lost her job and her independence. She had to move back home and fell into depression. The wheelchair she received from hospital restricted her more than empowered her – she described it as so big that “you would see the wheelchair first and then me” which impacted on her self-esteem. Her health also deteriorated as her wheelchair gave her pressure sores that became infected.
Motivation came into contact with Jane three years after her accident. We ensured that she received a wheelchair that fitted her correctly and could be used in the environment where she lived. As well as mobility skills, we taught her about the importance of correct posture and trained her in how to manage her bladder and bowel, so that she felt more confident leaving her home. This training is all provided by other wheelchair users who have been through similar experiences and can share their stories and advice. And for Jane it was this peer support that made her realise that she was not alone and that she had rights like everyone else.
“Now I know it is my right to have a relationship, it is my right to access any building and it is my right to work”
Jane’s story is not uncommon, and with 80% of disabled people in developing countries living in poverty, unable to access work there is so much more that we need to do.
That’s why I am delighted that our new appeal – Ready, Willing and Able – will help tackle these issues head on. Funds raised will help us to change attitudes and equip disabled people like Jane, with the practical knowledge, skills and, most importantly, the confidence needed to get back into employment or enter the workforce for the first time.
We will also work with communities and businesses to challenge the discrimination that leads to the exclusion of disabled people in society and in the workplace. This will include raising awareness of legislation around the employment of disabled people, highlighting the benefits of an inclusive workforce and making modifications to workplaces.
I firmly believe that disabled people in the developing world are ready for change. Not only are they willing to play a full and active part in society, but with the right support and training they are able to take control and drive the change they want to see in their lives like I have been able to do. And if like me you agree that every one deserves a fair chance to realise their potential, regardless of their disability I hope that you will consider supporting our Ready, Willing and Able appeal.
You can learn more about the appeal and our work on our website and if you do decide to make a donation before the 3rd March the UK government will double it – meaning your gift will go twice as far, with all match-funding going towards our project supporting disabled people in Kenya to access work.
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