Official estimates suggest that 95 percent of Ethiopia’s disabled live under the poverty line and are unemployed. To get by, many must beg or depend on family and friends. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the ministry responsible for enforcing rights of disabled people, is a paper tiger, toothless at that. Recent data suggest that only one percent of Ethiopian buildings and roads are fully accessible to the disabled. Yet accessibility is not only a physical, but also a social, cultural, and political sine qua non—and so a matter of human rights.
Rights of Ethiopia’s disabled have been quashed or ignored for millennia. Generations have grown up in a society shaped by church dogma, which construes disability as the result of sin, a source of shame. Whether disability is physical or cognitive, regardless of an affected person’s courage and capacity to cope, the disabled have been excluded from many aspects of life. Barring a lucky few (including one author), Ethiopia’s disabled can hope for charity at best, but at worst may be hidden from neighbors, driven from their homes, and forced to beg to survive.
The untapped potential is enormous. Data is deficient, but the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 17.6 percent of Ethiopians live with disabilities. Most are not helpless, yet an overwhelming majority remain uneducated, unemployed, and so denied the dignified lives that human beings deserve. Given recent changes in Ethiopia, however, all this could change.
Sirak Akalu Iyassu and Fiona McKinnon,
Disability Rights are Human Rights: Pushing Ethiopia Towards a Rights-based Movement,
Nw. J. Hum. Rts.