Globally an estimated 95 million children aged 0-14 years have a disability - 0.7%, 13 million of whom have a severe disability, according to the World Report on Disabilities 2011.
The athletes at the London, 2012 Paralympics provide positive examples for children living with a disability which is defined as ‘an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions’ in the report. These athletes also remind us of what can be achieved when the right support is given to those who need it.
Disability is something that almost everyone will experience at some point in their life, either temporarily or permanently. It is complex and refers to not only the impairment experienced by the individual but the negative aspects of interaction between individuals with health conditions, such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, depression, and personal and environmental factors such as negative attitudes, inaccessible transportation and public buildings, and limited social supports.
These negative aspects affect children in different ways, most commonly in their access to education. Data shows that education gaps exist in both low and high income countries between disabled and non disabled children. These gaps range from 10% in India to 60% in Indonesia in terms of the difference between the percentage of disabled children and the percentage of non-disabled children attending primary school.
Additionally children with intellectual or sensory impairments commonly fare worse than those with physical impairments, despite the knowledge that the inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream schools not only promotes universal primary completion but it is cost-effective and helps to reduce discrimination.
They are invisible
The World Report on Disability states that after reviewing 28 countries participating in the Education for All Fast Track Initiative Partnership, 18 countries either omitted any reference to disability or inclusion or, put forward minimal detail regarding strategies for the education of disabled children.
This invisibility in addition to a lack of finance, social protection and support services for children and their families are common throughout the world and have resulted in children with disabilities being less likely to start school than those without disabilities, and having lower rates of retention and advancement in schools.
They are invincible!
Paralympic athletes such as the Australian swimmer Ahmed Kelly who is currently competing in the 2012 Paralympic Games, in fact provide good examples for children and adults worldwide – both disabled or not – of what the words courage, determination and skill really mean. Born in Iraq with double arm and leg deficiencies, Ahmed was adopted by an Australian woman and after playing Australian Rules Football for a number of years (without prosthetic arms) he decided to devote himself to swimming which has now taken him to the highest possible level of competition.
Individuals like Ahmed do appear to be invincible and their achievements should be made increasingly visible to further help address discrimination and common misconceptions about people living with disability.
See also and contribute to the Wikigender article on “Women and Disability”.