Child Before Disability

00_Home_ReportCover_ENOn August 1, I had the opportunity to attend a webinar hosted by the US Fund for UNICEF. The topic of the webinar was the state of the world’s children with disabilities.

While the issue of disability is not a new one for UNICEF, I learned that they are moving from focusing on the protection of children with disabilities to promoting their rights the same as other children.

I left for my vacation shortly after the webinar and didn’t get the chance to write about it. It’s been popping into my head ever since, so I thought I would share some of what I learned.

The webinar was facilitated by Cara E Yar Kahn, the Reporting Specialist for UNICEF Haiti. Cara educated us on the models and approaches that have been used to address disabilities. The charity approach looks as a person with a disability as inferior or a burden to society. The medical approach looks at a disability as a condition that should be fixed so that the person can be integrated into society. The social and human rights approach, the one that UNICEF uses, sees disability as human diversity. This approach shifts focus from impairment to relationship with society. Equal rights, opportunity and inclusion are promoted in this social and human rights approach.

Cara gave the example of a person in wheelchair not being able to vote in an election because she could not reach the ballot box. The person is excluded from voting because of the environmental barriers of the ballot box, not because the person is disabled.

Cara also discussed using person-first terminology, where the individual is the primary focus and the disability is a secondary characteristic. So, you say a “child with a disability” instead of “disabled child” or “the child with the hearing impairment” (if you don’t know the child’s actual name) instead of “the deaf boy.”

While it is estimated that 93 million children – or 1 in 20 of those aged 14 or younger – live with a disability of some kind, the statistics are mostly speculative. Children with disabilities are often the most marginalized in the world and many are abused and discriminated against. Many governments do not have protections in place for these children. However, we don’t need hard data to start helping children with disabilities.

UNICEF’s three main goals are to mainstream children with disabilities in all programs, to champion the rights of people with disabilities and to promote inclusion. You can find out more about UNICEF’s work and the situation of children with disabilities in their The State of the World’s Children: Children with Disabilities report.

Following are links to articles from the webinar. There is something to learn in each one!

Download The State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities

How much do you know about children with disabilities? 

I wrote this post as part of the Global Team of 200, a highly specialized group of Mom Bloggers for Social Good members who focus on maternal health, children, hunger, and women and girls.

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  1. says

    Not to sound cliche, but this is like teaching someone to fish versus giving them the fish, which I believe is the best long term approach with any population who faces obstacles due to circumstance. Before I had kids, I did a lot of volunteer work with ARC and was always inspired by their work training program. I love that they had job coaches who taught them skills and taught them how to apply for jobs and went on site to check in on them on their jobs. Not only did this work but the clients felt accomplished about what they could do. Unicef has the right idea with this for certain.
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  2. says

    I second that UNICEF is amazing. I actually have that thought a lot when I see their reach. I don’t know a lot about children with disabilities. I do know about the first person terminology. One of my best friends taught me about saying “person with dwarfism” instead of what other people say – which I won’t even say here because I don’t.
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  3. says

    Wow- well I am not surprised that UNICEF is making changes in such a needed and valid area of humanity. I love this so much.

    How many children are suffering the cost of ignorance and neglect, because of the focus ON their disability and not on WHO they are and their potential?

    Clearly, we have a long long way to go. THANK you UNICEF. :)

  4. says

    I’m sad to say I don’t know as much as I should. This is great information. Thank you for sharing, and I really like this approach to looking at children with disabilities. I am glad UNICEF is taking this on.

  5. says

    Great information. I have always been involved with children with disabilities. My sister is 5 years younger and has cerebral palsy with cognitive challenges. She is an amazing girl, but to be honest, society has not been the best to her. I now work with children (and adults) who have brain injuries – and it is often considered an “invisible” disability – but the challenges are very real. We all need to make time to educate ourselves on what we can do differently, individually, to ensure that those with disabilities are given equal opportunities and the kind of support that empowers them.
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  6. says

    Love the title except in my mind it’s people in general and not just children. I can’t remember if I’ve told you this already but I’ve worked for 5 years with our local Citizen advocacy as a board member and as an advocate. My protigee is now 22 but we have all ages and it changed my outlook on people with disabilities. I actually had a very difficult time dealing with my preconceived notions about the type of lifestyles people with disabilities (or might I add, any person who has anything different than what we see as normal). I was surprised that my thoughts were very similar to most of society. It is an overwhelming process to train yourself to think of all people as having value and trying to get other people to do the same. I was so ashamed at how I had been living life pretty much dismissing people in regards to; getting a valued job, getting married, having children, etc…ALL the things I would want for myself. Now, I want all those things for everyone. Most people don’t get this revelation unless it hits close to home and then even still, some parents have the same outlook as the rest of society. This is why, I will not stop my work there. It is a very important message that needs to be constantly reinforced to change the way we see people. Thanks for your work here in multiple areas! You are an inspiration Jennifer!!!
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    • says

      You are an inspiration too, Joi! I learned so much in the webinar. It was almost a little embarrassing. There’s a wonderful program that used to have an office next door to a nonprofit I used to work for. They helped adults with all sorts of disabilities and challenges find jobs. I agree that we need to keep getting that message out there that all people deserve an equal chance in life.

  7. Chris says

    Jennifer – this subject puts me in mind of a book I edited for Dr. Lazerson – a doctor of education and teacher to”special ed” kids for 35 years. For all these years he has believed at his core that “the unteachable were reachable.”

    He has been advocating a change in terminology for more than two decades – stating that we are all learning challenged in one area or another….and that instead of focusing on “dis” abilities, we should focus on “abilities.”

    I tout the benefits of this book because it so clearly provides insights, techniques, and enthusiastically shares approaches ANY parent or teacher can implement to communicate with children whose challenges confound our own way of thinking. His book, “Teach Me If You Can! We’re All Special… Needs! ” is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon.

    BRAVO for the work that UNICEF is doing, and for your voice…for bringing this to our attention!


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