On a recent commission with the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability to Kenya and Tanzania, I photographed education and entrepreneurship projects supporting disabled people, and found my disability actually gave me an advantage.
It was surprising, and often sad, to observe the way disability is perceived in Kenya and Tanzania. I have heard many negative stories of children kept at home, not allowed to receive an education or participate in the community because their disability is seen as a misfortune for their families. They are excluded from living a ‘normal’ life. But, as I witnessed, there is a huge amount of positive, life-changing work being done to create opportunities and equality for disabled people in developing countries.
During my trip, I observed disabled children getting support in integrated schools, where they learn alongside their non-disabled classmates. Studying side-by-side encourages the children to be accepting of difference – an attitude they will hopefully carry through their lives. I met a teacher who walked to the opposite side of town to escort two blind brothers to and from school each day after their grandmother became too sick to walk with them. The teacher’s selfless actions had a real impact on me. She is inspirational but thinks she’s normal. In my eyes, she’s a very special lady.
Leonard Cheshire Disability also introduced me to a number of disabled adults who were born with a disability and some who had acquired a disability through war or disease. What they had in common was their desire to start a business of their own, to have the chance to work their way out of poverty, and to earn a living and achieve independence for themselves and their families.
Currently, one billion people in the world live with a disability so severe, that it limits their participation in society. The collective spending and economic power of this group is staggering, and it is unbelievable that so many disabled people are excluded and marginalised based on misguided assumptions they have little to offer. Our potential is limitless.
It is unbelievable that so many disabled people are excluded and marginalised based on misguided assumptions they have little to offer.