Ecuador: People with Disabilities Fight for Real Inclusion

January 23, 2012

Quito, January 23, 2012 - Luis Vicente González works as a teacher at a special-needs high school in Loja, Ecuador, and also heads one of the three Regional Citizen Observatories set up with WB support to monitor the rights of people with disabilities in Ecuador.

Energetic, courteous and articulate, Luis works to ensure that the inclusion of people with disabilities in southern Ecuador is a reality rather than just a concept. “The most important thing is to raise public awareness that people with disabilities can effectively integrate into daily life,” says Luis, whose blindness has not kept him from devoting all of his senses to a task he considers essential for improving the current situation.

The World Report on Disability, which was published by the World Bank and the World Health Organization and presented to authorities, specialists and civil society representatives in Quito, estimates that more than one billion people in the world live with some form of disability -- roughly 15 percent of the global population.

Ecuadorean law stipulates that 4 percent of public and private employees should be people with disabilities. However, meeting this target does not always mean that the situation is ideal. “It is not enough for a company to hire a blind person and then have him sit at desk without doing much simply to abide by the law,” says Luis.

This is when the citizen observatories come in. If effective inclusion of people with disabilities does not happen the way it should, observatory representatives notify a higher-level agency, or the government as a last resort, so that they can levy sanctions. “We also congratulate business owners who do a good job,” he adds.

Overall, the three observatories –providing national coverage from Guayaquil, Quito and Loja– attempt to guarantee the right to health, work, education, communication, participation and access to justice of people with disabilities.

María Dolores Arribas Baños, resident representative for the World Bank in Ecuador, believes that the project significantly contributes to the country’s development since it “involves an important part of the population deserving the same opportunities as the rest, and the right to a dignified life in conditions of equality.

One successful project activity is the monitoring of educational rights, or ensuring that disabled children attend regular schools, which in most cases are inaccessible to people with disabilities,” says Project Coordinator Nelly Endara. The project also trains teachers and promotes parental involvement with a view to “raising awareness, mobilizing and orienting civil society,” according to Nelly.

With World Bank support, the project strives to empower a segment of society that has been stigmatized and has not had a voice in political, economic and social affairs.

Among the planned project activities is the provision of equipment for observatories, training of their members, dissemination of project results and support to the creation of the web page www.discapacidadesecuador.org.

A Pending Task

The World Health Survey estimates that 110 million people (2.2 percent) have very significant difficulties in functioning, while the Global Burden of Disease estimates that 190 million (3.8 percent) have “severe disability” (the equivalent of disability associated with conditions such as quadriplegia, severe depression or blindness).

The project also advocates for public policies and laws to facilitate inclusion and equal opportunity for people with disabilities. As organizations of people with disabilities have acknowledged, the fact that Ecuadorean Vice-president Lenín Moreno Garcés is a paraplegic has helped raise awareness of this population group. Still, striving for equal treatment and opportunities is an uphill battle, activists acknowledge.

Observers who visit companies to follow up on complaints can attest to this situation. “Some places refuse even to receive the observers,” says Nelly.

What Do We Know about Disability?

Around 800 million people 15 years and older (15.6 percent) live with a disability, while 95 million (5.1 percent) children (0–14 years) are disabled. Around 13 million of those (0.7 percent) have “severe disability.”

According to the World Health Survey the main barriers for people with disabilities include inadequate policies and standards, lack of provision of services, problems with service delivery, inadequate funding, lack of accessibility and lack of consultation and involvement.