All posts by Lucy Daniel

Lucy Daniel joined CBM Australia as a Policy Officer in July 2011, after several years practicing as a family lawyer. CBM is the world’s largest organisation working with people with disabilities in developing countries. She is also a member of Micah Challenge that works with people with disabilities in development.

Education still a long way off for children with disabilities in poverty

It’s a great idea for a movie. A political drama. George Clooney or Matt Damon as male lead, and there’s a young, feisty, female journalist who gets caught up in it all. The opening scene spans a meeting room high up in skyscraper land, with a marble round table, iced water jugs and leaders of a big global development Bank.

Disability is not the only battle for kids like this. © 2011 CBM Australia, Photo: Christoph Ziegenhardt.

“Gentlemen, you should be proud,” says the silver fox, “This policy forges the path to education for the poorest of the poor.”

Clapping and shaking hands all around.

Cut to the brilliant green and brown of a remote village high up in Indonesia’s mountains. Children, gorgeous and laughing, walk kilometers of terrain to a tiny, one-teacher school. The camera pans back to the village, where a little girl stares wistfully after them. The shot widens to show that she has clubfoot; her feet twisted inwards. As opening credits scroll on, we know there is no way she could walk to school…

I haven’t worked out the complete script yet, but there are plenty of true stories to draw from. One billion people in the world have disabilities, and around 80% of them live in developing countries like Indonesia. In fact, in the world’s poorest places over one in five people have disabilities.  These people live with much more than just physical or mental impairments. As my “little Indonesian girl” character would portray, people with disabilities experience huge barriers in participating in education, employment and community life.

Barriers exist for people with disabilities in all societies, but are steepest in poorer communities where access to these activities is often limited anyway. A child born with clubfoot in Australia will generally get treatment at birth to straighten and strengthen her legs, and still go to school, socialise and work with her peers. The little Indonesian girl, however, presents the reality in many developing countries.

In these places, children born with clubfoot will never receive treatment for this. Walking, if possible, will always be painful, and she could never travel far. In many communities her impairment would also be seen as a curse. She would likely face a lifetime of stigma and exclusion from her community, who assume that because she has a disability, she has no potential.

If there was a movie, this little girl’s story would show us how poverty and disability create a vicious cycle: being poor generally limits access to health care, good nutrition and safe conditions – which increases the likelihood of acquiring a disability.  And having a disability generally limits access to education, employment and community – which increases the likelihood of being trapped in poverty.

Clearly this movie is a drama. It’s a dramatic fact that children with disabilities make up one-third of all children in developing countries who should be in school but are not. What isn’t so clear is how this dire situation can be developed into a Hollywood ending.

Cue for us to cut to the silver fox in the skyscraper.

Some of the big players in development are coming to recognise that people with disabilities are extremely vulnerable and excluded from their projects. How this recognition gets the little girl with clubfoot to school is more complicated. RESULTS International (Australia) recently released a report examining how the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and AusAID include girls and children with disabilities in education programs they fund in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Philippines. The report finds that while all three agencies consider disability in their high-level development policies, “on the ground” many children with disabilities are still not getting to school.  Some progress has been made—particularly by AusAID–but children with disabilities continue to be profoundly excluded from education. And so the scene is set for the tale of the silver fox and the little village girl.

To be honest, I don’t think I’d like the movie. It would have a twee love plot and some expendable character I fancied would die. Then there would be the inevitable contrast between the skyscraper and village, reinforcing unhelpful paradigms of “us” and “them”, “benefactor” and “beneficiary”, “problem” and “solution”.

But I would still probably go to see it. Because when millions of the world’s children are facing such extreme discrimination and exclusion, you need to take what you can to get the message out there.

Which is why I’m asking you to think about this: Would you have gone to see the film? Would you get teary at the injustice that the little girl endures? Would you spend the trip home ranting about the laudable development banks writing toothless policies from their air-conditioned skyscrapers? Would you Google some combination of “disability poverty Indonesia education” when procrastinating at work the next day?

Or, even if you think the movie sounds like the worst thing since the Titanic, are you horrified by the fact that 70% of children with disabilities in Indonesia do not go to school?

If so, don’t let this storyline just be an overlooked opportunity for Matt Damon to get an Oscar. Movie or not, there are still millions of children in the world being denied their rights because they have a disability. So get teary, rant, Google, find out more about ending the cycle of poverty and disability.

Their stories may not make it to the big screen, but these children still deserve the chance to write their own happy ending.


This article first appeared in the Angry Cripple column of The Punch.

To find out more about the cycle of poverty and disability and what you can do about this, visit End the Cycle.


Why International Day of People with Disabilities deserves a star in everyone’s calendar

When I started working in the development sector, I quickly realised there were a few things to get my head around. Acronyms. The project management cycle. Aid versus development versus service delivery, and the slippery thin lines that divide them. And of course, the constant stream of International Days.

Planning for International Days is part of my role here at CBM. I inherited a list of all the International Days from my predecessor with little stars and circles next to the ones that warranted different levels of activity; an internal staff email, website content, or even an event. In my first naïve and wide-eyed week, I thought it was a bit harsh to rank important days like this.  If they were all good enough for the UN (or whoever set them), surely they are all good enough for us? But, by around the time I had mastered the staff coffee machine, I had also come to see how necessary a bit of forward planning was when it came to International Days.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still love International Days (IDs for short – I’ve come to embrace the acronyms now). IDs provide a welcome and necessary prompt for us to reflect upon, raise awareness and celebrate about important issues that may unintentionally just pass over otherwise.

But the thing is, there’s many of them. As regular tweeps will know, it’s very rare to get through a week without someone tweeting that it’s ID of this or that, and after a while, they all start to blur. It’s not that IDs aren’t fundamentally good concepts; but it would be a full time job to engage with every single one. So, practicality won, and I had to concede there was some merit in ranking them with little stars after all.

This made me realise that IDs are like birthdays—you have some that you make a huge deal about with special dinners, some that warrant a present and some that only need a text or facebook cheer.  The ranking each birthday or ID gets depends on how close you are with the person, or the issue as the case may be.

And maybe the really big IDs—International Women’s Day for example—which are close to the hearts of millions and celebrated worldwide, are more like your communal holidays such as Christmas, Passover, Ramadan or Diwali; as they have a broader reach than probably any individual’s birthday (although I’ve always been impressed that Americans get a day off for George Washington’s birthday).

So, while International Jugglers Day is probably more on par with an individual’s birthday party celebrated by those special few ball tossing elite and their fans, International Day of Eradication of Poverty is like New Years, recognised by masses worldwide if you count both Western and Chinese versions.

Why International Day of People with Disabilities deserves that star

Now that I’ve worked this theory out, I’m going to proclaim that International Day of People with Disabilities is one of the biggies; like Mothers Day perhaps.

If you don’t consider that issues around disability are relevant to you personally, you might think that this is a bit of an overstatement. The truth is that the World Report on Disability tells us that there are one billion people living with disabilities in the world. That’s one person in every seven, worldwide. With such a high prevalence we should all know someone with a disability of some kind, such as a physical impairment, mental health condition or intellectual disability. And, particularly close to the hearts of those of us concerned with poverty eradication, disability is a huge (though frequently forgotten) development issue.

The World Report also found that over twenty percent—that’s one in five—of the world’s poorest people live with a disability. This is because disability is much more prevalent in developing countries, because disability is both a cause and consequence of poverty. Disability causes poverty because societies frequently exclude people with disabilities. Particularly in developing countries where there are often widespread misconceptions and stigma around disability and its causes, people with disabilities are frequently shunned from society.

Also, the lack of available resources and training in these places means that people with disabilities are denied the supports that would enable them to participate in activities such as schooling or work, or even development programs. This exclusion means that people with disabilities are often denied fundamental rights such as education, rehabilitation and employment, which in turn deprives them of these opportunities to break out of poverty. And, while people with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty, those living in poverty are also more likely to acquire a disability. This is through many common circumstances of poverty such as lack of good nutrition, health care, shelter, clean water and sanitation, and safe working conditions.

This creates a cycle where disability both causes and is caused by poverty.  In fact, this link is so strong that the United Nations General Assembly has recognised that “inclusion of persons with disabilities in all development work is crucial to achieving the MDGs”. Also, societies and programs that include everyone get to benefit from the huge contributions that people with disabilities give back to communities in which they are able to meaningfully participate.

So what does this mean?

In the development sector this all means that in planning we need to consider how people with disabilities may experience or be excluded from our various projects, and ensure that these are made as accessible as possible. This could involve providing assistance to people with disabilities who may not be able to travel by themselves to program centres, breaking down social stigma around disability by ensuring people with disabilities are given equal opportunity to participate, or spreading word of projects in ways that people with communication or learning disabilities will be able to understand.

On a social level, it means that we all should keep in mind that one in seven people worldwide have a disability. Exclusion of people with disabilities doesn’t just take place in developing countries—it’s something that we all need to be conscious of and address in our own lives, social groups and workplaces.

And on a personal level, it means that if issues of development and poverty are close to your heart, then International Day of People with Disabilities every 3rd December deserves a great big star in your calendar.


For more information on poverty and disability, you can visit and sign the pledge at or follow @endthecycleAUS. The End the Cycle campaign is celebrating International Day of People with Disabilities in style at Sydney’s Martin Place on 2 December, 2011, from 12 to 2pm. All are welcome to this fun and free public event, sharing with people with disabilities about their achievements, rights and the cycle of poverty and disability. A huge line up including live music, speakers from WHO and UNICEF, and the End the Cycle photography exhibition will be there.