Today, on World Autism Day, I’d like to highlight the impact of education on what persons with disabilities are capable of achieving. More than one billion people – 15% of the world’s population – experience some form of disability. One-fifth of the estimated global total, up to 190 million people, encounter significant disabilities. Persons with disabilities are more likely to experience adverse socio-economic outcomes than persons without disabilities, such as less education, worse health outcomes, less employment, and higher poverty rates.Most persons with disabilities are in developing countries.
Although the incremental costs associated with such upgrades are fairly negligible, attention to detail is paramount. That is not always easy, and the attached picture (at right) taken during an implementation support mission some years ago illustrates this challenge quite well — this ramp is not aligned with sidewalk and too narrow for a wheelchairs to actually use.
Within that context, a project that took us to a series of medium-sized cities in North East China turned into one of the most memorable experiences of our careers. The Liaoning Medium Cities Infrastructure Project focused on rehabilitating and improving urban roads in five medium-sized cities of the industrial province of Liaoning. While on paper all the final designs complied with official accessibility requirements, the finished product often looked like the attached picture, with just enough askew to render the infrastructure unusable to many users. As the Bank team, we were struggling to get our counterparts within the city government to appreciate the issue. When we pointed out and followed up on particular issues, they would often see us as being nitpicky and somewhat out-of-touch with the gritty realities of construction in local conditions.
Around 1 billion people worldwide are estimated to live with some form of disability, and for 185 million of those, they are severe enough that they have serious difficulty functioning.
As the World Bank renews its commitment to doing more to support people with disabilities, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the evolution of my own thinking on disability. When I was in my teens I thought of disability in black and white terms – there were people with disabilities and there were others, without.
As I grew up in a small town (by Indian standards) in northern India, my perspectives began to evolve, both through routine observation of the numerous failings of people we see as “able”, and through highly inspiring interactions with people who had so called “disabilities”. I must say I am in a very different place today than I was as a child.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Big data: 4 predictions for 2014
"One could look back at 2013 and consider it the breakthrough year for big data, not in terms of innovation but rather in awareness. The increasing interest in big data meant it received more mainstream attention than ever before. Indeed, the likes of Google, IBM, Facebook and Twitter all acquired companies in the big data space. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden also revealed that intelligence agencies have been collecting big data in the form of metadata and, amongst other things, information from social media profiles for a decade." READ MORE
The rise of civil society groups in Africa
"Under the glaring sun of a recent Monday, an unusual group of protesters marched on the streets of Kampala, Uganda’s capital, all dressed in black “to mourn the loss of Uganda’s public money through corruption,” as some of them pointedly explained to reporters. “Return our money and resign,” read one of the slogans they brandished. Since November 2012, on the first Monday of each month, the Black Monday Movement—a coalition of local NGOs and civil society groups—has taken to the streets to highlight the effects of corruption in Uganda and to press public officials to act." READ MORE
I usually criticize development wonks who come up with yet another ‘if I ruled the world’ plan for reforming everything without thinking through the issues of politics, power and incentives that will determine which (if any) of their grand schemes gets adopted. But it’s been a hard week, and today I’m taking time out from the grind of political realism to rethink aid policy.
Call it a thought experiment. Suppose we started with a blank sheet of paper, and decided which issues to spend aid money on based on two criteria – a) how much death and destruction does a given issue cause in developing countries, and b) do the rich countries actually know how to reduce the damage? That second bit is important – remember Charles Kenny’s book ‘Getting Better‘, which argues powerfully that since we understand how to improve health and education much better than how to generate jobs and growth, aid should concentrate on the former.
How relevant is ICT for transport? The emergence of low-cost open-source mapping tools; widespread cellular network coverage in developing countries; declining costs of mobile phone hardware; and increasing Internet use by public agencies have resulted in unprecedented opportunities to support transport planning and management in developing countries.
Have you ever been to a foreign city and not been able to figure out the names of the stations or directions of that city’s metro? Did you feel completely lost and upset with whoever designed the system? Maybe as a parent you have tried taking a bus with a stroller and gave up because you were not able to take it up the steep stairs? Or maybe you had to walk on the road among traffic and cars because the sidewalk was blocked by construction or parked cars?
"Just like the Other Kids" could reach 300,000 first and second graders this year.
We like to think that our value added is our strong intellect and analytical skills combined with the ability to provide additional resources to tackle development issues. But for South Asia’s efforts in disability, it has sometimes been the smallest amounts of money and the least ‘Bank-like’ activities that have been creating the greatest awareness on the subject. I wanted to highlight some of the very exciting initiatives that we have been working on marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities today. Three such activities have been the development of a children’s book on inclusion in Pakistan, coverage by an Indian newspaper of a one-page analysis of Bollywood’s depiction of disability in films in the report Disability in India: from Commitment to Actions, and a Small Grants Award Ceremony in Sri Lanka.
“Just like the Other Kids” is a book by young people between the ages of 12 to 18 with and without disabilities financed for $22,000 by the South Asia Youth Innovation Fund and the Pakistan Small Grants Program. Its intent is to introduce first and second graders to characters with disabilities in a friendly, inclusive way. Three out of five of the characters have a disability, but all the characters have strong abilities (and some weaknesses).