What do we mean by disability?
Disability can mean many things. Broadly speaking it is a lack of ability relative to a personal or group norm. In reality, there is often a spectrum of ability. Disability can involve a type of impairment: physical, sensory, cognitive or intellectual. It can also involve a mental disorder or a chronic disease. A disability may occur during a person’s lifetime or may be present from birth. Learn more here.
Many disabilities are preventable. Others are not. Our aim is twofold. Firstly we want to reduce preventable disability caused by poor nutrition and disease. Secondly we want to create a more inclusive society in which disabled people are seen as the able people that they are.
Why is life so hard for disabled Bolivians?
It is estimated that 15% of Bolivians have some form of disability, which is over 1.5 million people. Most of these are caused by preventable diseases such as polio, German measles and high malnutrition rates in children.
Living with a disability in Bolivia is not easy, especially if you are poor. The government has very few resources to provide for special needs, so individuals need a lot of support to integrate into their communities. To make things even more difficult very few buildings and streets are accessible by wheelchair. Yet this is not the most difficult challenge that people face.
Disabled Bolivians suffer serious discrimination. Social stigma around disabilities is systemic. Even teachers, police officers and doctors are not trained in how to deal with the disabled. According to the 2011 World Report on Disabilities, people with disabilities are much more likely to be unemployed. 75% of disabled Bolivians are without work, compared to 44% of non-disabled Bolivians. This feeds into the cycle of poverty for disabled people and means that many go without necessary health care.
Half of the disabled population cannot afford health care, compared to a third of non-disabled people. People with disabilities are more than twice as likely to find health-care providers’ skills inadequate; nearly three times more likely to be denied health care; and four times more likely to report being treated badly by medical staff than non-disabled people. Children with disabilities are less likely to attend school than non-disabled children. This pattern is observed globally, across all age groups and is more pronounced in poorer countries. Even in countries where most non-disabled children go to school, many children with disabilities do not. For example, in Bolivia about 98% of non-disabled children go to school, compared to less than 40% of disabled children.
Founder Matt Pepe witnessed the scope of the problem first hand while living in Bolivia for two years. Volunteering in a prosthetic hospital, he observed that amputees in particular were highly discriminated against and received little support from neither foreign NGOs nor the Bolivian government.
Bolivians Without disAbilities will provide funding to Bolivian organizations that attempt to eliminate and/or alleviate disabilities in Bolivia. We will offer funding to non-profit Bolivian prosthetic organizations that provide prosthesis to low-income Bolivian amputees. We will promote awareness in the United States of Bolivian disabilities, so that other interested organizations may provide their support, either in concert with our organization or on their own. We will promote the transfer of technologies to Bolivia, such as locally manufacturable prosthetic components, hearing aids and batteries, the use of Adaptive Furniture Technology for babies and young children, and more. We will attempt to coordinate the delivery of wheelchairs from international non-profits who donate wheelchairs to local partners. If you are part of an organisation supporting disabled Bolivians, please feel free to get in touch.
Lucio Álvarez, an expert on disabilities at the medical faculty of La Paz’s public university.
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