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Disability in rural areas: A matter of perception

06 October 2020

One billion people – 15 per cent of the world’s population – currently have a disability, and 80 per cent of them live in developing countries. People with disabilities face significant challenges, including negative attitudes, stigma, discrimination and lack of accessibility in physical and virtual environments – all of which complicate their ability to fully participate in society and the economy. For these reasons and more, despite being “the world’s largest minority,” they are often overlooked.

People with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty than non-disabled people. Available data show that the proportion of people with disabilities living under the poverty line is higher than that of people without disabilities – in some countries, twice as high. In developing countries, people with disabilities and their households are less likely to always have food to eat. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 crisis is deepening pre-existing inequalities and exposing the extent of their exclusion. Despite being at greater risk for contracting COVID-19 and for experiencing severe complications, persons with disabilities are nevertheless particularly disadvantaged by its socio-economic consequences as well, including job losses and lockdown measures to control the spread. They are also among the hardest hit in terms of fatalities.

In rural areas, people with disabilities tend to face more challenges than their counterparts in urban areas. They are less likely to have attended school, less likely to be employed, less likely to be attended by a skilled health worker and less likely to own a mobile phone. Similarly, they are often left behind in rural development interventions. People with disabilities are frequently seen as objects of charity, medical treatment and social protection, not as individuals who are capable of exercising their rights, making decisions based on their free and informed consent and being active members of society and the economy. Findings from existing literature, however, show that people with disabilities in rural areas are economically active, have the potential to generate income and have the possibility of a productive pathway out of poverty.

A number of IFAD-supported projects have successfully assisted people with disabilities in setting up their own businesses along all stages of the value chain, from production to processing to trading and buying. As a result, they are now able to support themselves and their families and contribute to their local economies.

In Senegal, for example, more than 300 members of organisations of persons with disabilities have been trained by IFAD and its partners in vocational and business skills. As a result, Djenalib Ba was able to set up his own workshop for making and repairing agricultural tools. He now employs and mentors five young men. Meanwhile, Daba Diom started a poultry farming business and, with the profit she makes, all 14 members of her household can now go to school and eat three meals a day.

Nevertheless, rural development programmes, such as those financed by IFAD, need to do more to reach out to persons with disabilities. Successful inclusion starts with the recognition that they are active members of society and the economy and relies on specific targeting approaches and closer engagement with people with disabilities and their organisations to make sure their voices are heard and that project activities are tailored to their needs.

We at IFAD are committed to stepping up our efforts to include people with disabilities in our operations, including working in partnership with other organizations. We are about to launch a new initiative, in collaboration with Light for the World, the International Labour Organization and PROCASUR, to pilot innovative disability inclusion approaches in IFAD-supported projects. As a new member of the Global Action on Disability Network, we also hope to strengthen our engagement with organizations of persons with disabilities through the International Disability Alliance

The 2030 Agenda For Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals highlight the need for inclusion of people with disabilities. This is even more important in everything we do during and after the COVID-19 crisis. Only by focusing on the abilities of all members of rural communities will we be able to build equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics and the many other global challenges we face.