"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).
During field testing of the book in both English and Urdu, children were asked whether the characters could go to their school. Nearly 98 percent of the kids responded, “of course!” Children with disabilities are often ignored or isolated in “Special Schools,” but the book appears to have influenced how the young readers perceived ‘difference.’ It was subsequently picked up by USAID in Pakistan to use in teacher training programs which should reach an estimated 7,500 teachers – or approximately 300,000 first and second graders over the next year. If the first 200 children exposed to “Just like the Other Kids” believed their schools could be inclusive, one hopes this attitude will spread to all those who read it.
Likewise, when the Bank launched its ground-breaking study People with Disabilities in India: from Commitments to Outcomes in New Delhi in early 2008, surely the Task Team Leader Pip O’Keefe (Lead Economist) thought the succinct analysis of the socioeconomic profile of people with disabilities or the presentation of policy options would attract attention. Instead, the Telegraph newspaper carried an article on the front of its Nation section focusing on a one page box about how people with disabilities are depicted in Bollywood movies and Hindu mythology. It is a supportive story which emphasizes the need for Bollywood to not only sensitize the public to the needs of people with disabilities, but demonstrate more strongly their capabilities. The article may have reached over a million people.
There are many similar stories across the region of some of the Bank’s smaller efforts making a big splash: a Development Marketplace focused on disability in Pakistan, a small grants program in Sri Lanka which received significant press coverage, a Japan Social Development Fund grant for $760,000 which helped lead to a policy change regarding the employment of people with disabilities, and more.
The organizations with which we worked and the people with disabilities whose lives we touched feel that the Bank has helped give voice and credibility to their struggle for recognition and empowerment. However, with an estimated 100-150 million people with disabilities in South Asia, we have a long, long way to go to achieve the goals of the 2009 International Day of Persons with Disabilities, “Making the MDGs Inclusive: Empowerment of persons with disabilities and their communities around the world”.