Awareness and inclusion campaigns
A new perspective
Wheelchair Angels International is committed to educate and actively participate and support all kind of events that break the stereotype of disabled persons in society. In the US, Wheelchair Angels has set up seminars in churches and other venues to share the experience of our work and so talk about the stigma of disability. In the Middle East, all encounters, be it a home visit, a wheelchair distribution or a lecture, are opportunities for our team to address these issues, be it on a personal level or in the perspective of society. In a place where the disabled are hidden and shame around disability runs rampant it is paramount that the conversation happens and that the myths are dissipated.
Some children just never get a break! In the Middle East, and especially so in its developing nations, birth defects and genetic disorders are rampant. For example, 69.9/1000 live births in the Arab world have some sort of genetic anomaly compared with 52.1/1000 live births in Europe, North America, and Australia. This difference is significant—and likely not to change anytime soon. The reasons?
Twenty-five to sixty percent of all Middle Eastern marriages are consanguineous, i.e., occurring between closely related persons. This is often a marriage between first cousins where the prevalence of congenital disorders run about 1.7% – 2% higher than the typical background risk might suggest.
There are several isolated subpopulations where inbreeding is quite common.
Unlike the nations of Europe and North America which have a multitude of public health programs that deal with preventing/responding to birth defects, there are generally no similar programs in the Middle East. Such is largely restricted by cultural and legal limitations that are deeply rooted in a mostly tribal society.
Poverty—which has a strong relationship to a youngster’s long-term economic and physical well being. Poor nutrition in the first few months of a newborn’s life can have adverse and irreversible consequences on cognitive development.
Now imagine these children unable to go to school, to play outside, go to church—or even their village—because they are unable to walk. Children who must be carried everywhere. The effect on the child is severe. For the parents, the burden is both personal and societal.
By some estimates there are as many as 150 million children in the world who live with a disability; 80% of them live in developing countries. Most do not receive necessary treatment and most are discriminated against. A trifling 2% have access to education.
“Until Arab society is fully convinced that a disabled person has human rights and can be an effective member in society, I doubt that we will ever reach a point where we can confidently say that we have embraced disabled persons and accepted them as peers.” (Fr. Badih el-Hage, General Director of Beit Chabab hospital for the disabled in Lebanon summing up the situation of the vast majority of disabled people in the Arab world.)