How education breaks down barriers for people with disabilities
Disabled students are often marginalized and impoverished but education has an enormous positive effect on disabled citizens and their communities.
July 05, 2011 by Tara O'Connell|

More than a billion people — 15% of the world — have some form of disability, and a shocking 80% of that number live in developing countries, making such men, women, and children among the poorest and most marginalized on the planet. For this community, finding a job, any job, can be a massive challenge.

One of those people, Kamal Lamichhane, a blind Nepalese who is  an economist at the University of Tokyo, has made it his mission to search out hard facts and figures to help his fellow disabled. In his latest research, Kamal showed how education plays a truly major role in breaking down the many barriers disabled people face in trying to gain a toehold in the workforce.

A new study he has co-authored with Professor Yasuyuki Sawada reveals a startlingly high return-on-investment in education in his native Nepal, where disabled individuals who have access to schools and learning, can win jobs and keep them, even compared to non-disabled men and women in the workforce.

Kamal Lamichhane

Kamal Lamichhane

Kamal, the only Nepalese with a visual impairment to earn a PhD, argues convincingly that education markedly lowers the chance of a disabled person being excluded, and increases that person’s opportunities exponentially, significantly empowering this stigmatized group to gain employment and stay in work.

He speculates that many disabled people in Nepal realize all too clearly that education is absolutely key to their securing any job, so they push hard for schooling. And once they hold a position, they take care to keep it, since they know what an effort it took them to secure steady work in the first place.

Kamal wants to break the vicious cycle of low education and subsequent poverty among people with disability in the poorest countries, removing obstacles to schooling, and using the availability and quality of data on disability to make their case. He knows that economists and policy makers demand hard evidence and the studywhich he and Professor Sawada have completed is one of the few research studies in this area.

School-based health services can make a real difference, given the shortage and cost of free-standing health clinics.

All over the world, in nearly all towns, villages, and communities — even the most rural — schools exist, where health clinics do not or are scarce. Schools serve as networks transferring knowledge, and also are community centers, and social gathering places. These schools are equipped with teachers, who are commonly held in high esteem, as respected members of the community, entrusted with developing the minds of the children. Integrated School Health programs can offer basic health services, and the teachers — with very little training — can help flag common health ailments that, if left untreated, develop into more serious conditions — like refractive error. Teachers can perform initial screenings for vision, or hearing, or a number of conditions with recognizable symptoms in children (like anemia or intestinal worms). Furthermore, teachers can offer students referrals to clinics or health centers where a medical diagnosis may be made, and followed up by treatment. These screenings lead to more early diagnoses that reduce the scourge of disability and ill health on a child’s ability to access or stay in school, increase the child’s opportunity to learn and, in the long-term, help boys and girls enjoy a healthier life.

EFA FTI work for children with disabilities in Cambodia

Currently, the Cambodian Ministry of Education with technical assistance from the FTI Secretariat has helped identify service planning and provision aimed at out-of-school children, including a childhood disability assessment. The FTI project explores causes for children being out-of-school, and identifies barriers and obstacles to school attendance. Based on these findings, the Ministry of Education will develop policies and programs specifically targeting the country’s out-of-school children, including children with disabilities and other special needs. The development of a ‘tool’ to identify Cambodia’s out-of-school children — which is part of this program — is critical to this undertaking. With this tool, teachers can be trained to become the first line for screening children for health problems which might impede their development and ability to learn.

As shown by this project in Cambodia, FTI, the World Bank, and global donors to education, can do more to increase investments to School Health programs to reach children at a young age with health services that could save their lives and underpin their health — and their education.

Learn more

Disability, Education, and Employment in Nepal by Kamal Lamichhane and Yasuyuki Sawada, University of Tokyo. The study involved over 400 participants with visual, hearing, and/or physical impairments. Just over 70 per cent of the 400 had become disabled before the age of six.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 90% of the world’s visually impaired live in developing countries, where access to health and other social services are limited. WHO also tells us that, globally, uncorrected refractive errors are the main cause of visual impairment (in middle, and low-income countries, it is cataracts), and that 80% of all visual impairment can be avoided or cured. WHO further tells us that 80% of people with hearing impairment live in either low- or middle-income countries, and that about 25% of hearing impairment begins during childhood.

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