By Jessica Meirovici
Social Connectedness Fellow
In 1995, the Constitution of Uganda was modified to include the protection of the rights of people with disabilities, as well as the protection of children and vulnerable people from mistreatment and abuse.[i] However, despite this legislative action, proper implementation is still lacking.
I saw this first hand last summer while working in Uganda for a rural non-governmental organization. The organization’s social worker, Nanzala Martha, said that children with disabilities (CwDs) are often abandoned, neglected and mistreated by their peers and sometimes even their families. This treatment is often the result of poverty, stigma, and traditional beliefs surrounding any type of disability. Martha explained that people are unaware of the potential of people with disabilities.[ii]
Based on estimates gathered by UNICEF, “13%, i.e. approximately 2.5 million children live with some form of disability in Uganda”, where approximately “9% of CwDs of school going age attend primary school, compared with a national average of 92%.”[iii]
One of the most important ways to eliminate the barriers facing CwDs is inclusive education, whereby every student, regardless of his or her background, ethnicity, religion, abilities or disabilities, learns in the same classroom. Martha described it as an environment where everyone’s voice and needs are heard and where they are encouraged to speak up. She believes that inclusive models create dialogue, which only makes students more compassionate towards one another, while giving marginalized students a voice.
Children with disabilities require equitable accommodations, which often demand significant financial support. However, the government of Uganda currently spends less than 1% of its education budget on resources for special needs education.[iv] Without adequate support, CwDs cannot cope or thrive within their communities.
Fortunately, there are several initiatives and organizations working to advance inclusive education in Uganda. For example, the Uganda Society for Disabled Children, started in 1984, advocates for inclusive education and modifies existing school environments to accommodate students’ needs. The organization sees an inclusive classroom as a holistic environment whereby an entire community of students, parents, educators, special educators, social workers, assistive technology and administrative support are all part of the inclusion process.[v]
One of the organization’s goals is to end the negative stigma surrounding disabilities in Uganda. Thus, it empowers the parents of students with disabilities to stand up for their children and fight for inclusive policies in their schools and communities. The organization also provides resources to schools committed to the cause and works alongside vocational training schools and rehabilitation centers. To date, 110 children have been supported to stay in school through this program.
The Uganda Society for Disabled Children works in partnership with Able Child Africa to implement inclusive education programs in three districts in northern Uganda. These three-year programs seek to address the barriers associated with disabilities in the country.[vi] To get involved, you can donate or speak up on social media using the hashtag #WeAreAllAble.
Creating inclusive classroom environments is no easy task, but the benefits are clear. Such programming allows all children to grow together and learn to respect and accept each other’s differences. The collaborative efforts of the organizations mentioned above go a long way in supporting the well-being of all children and in helping those with disabilities to access an education they deserve.
[i] The Constitution of Uganda. (1995). Act. 35 & 17-c. Retrieved from http://www.statehouse.go.ug/sites/default/files/attachments/Constitution_1995.pdf.
[ii] N.Martha. Personal Communications. June 15th 2017.
[iii] Riche, N., & Anyimuzala, J. (2014). Research Study on Children with Disabilities Living in Uganda. Unicef. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/uganda/UNICEF_CwD_situational_analysis_FINAL.pdf.
[iv] Nyende, F. (2012). Children with Disabilities in Universal Primary Education in Uganda: A Right-Based Analysis to Inclusive Education. (Research). The Hague. Retrieved from https://thesis.eur.nl/pub/13189/Farouk%20Nyende_Nyende%20-%20RP_1501.pdf
[v] Uganda Society for Disabled Children. “Innovative Practices 2014 on Accessibility: A Fully Inclusive and Accessible School in Uganda”. Zeroproject.org. Retrieved from https://zeroproject.org/practice/a-fully-inclusive-and-accessible-school-in-uganda/
[vi] AbleChildAfrica. Our Partners: “Uganda Society for Disabled”. Ablechildafrica.org. Retrieved from http://www.ablechildafrica.org/our-partners/uganda-partner/