More than one billion people in the world live with some form of disability. Nearly 200 million have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, hinder their participation in society on an equal basis with others. Following the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), disability is increasingly understood as a human rights issue. It is also an important development issue. Many people with disabilities, including those affected by leprosy, face difficulties accessing healthcare, education, and employment opportunities, and are therefore likely to experience worse poverty than non-disabled people. Many do not receive the disability-related services that they require, and experience exclusion from everyday life activities.
The Leprosy Mission works together with organisations of persons with disabilities (DPOs) and with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to break down barriers for people with disabilities in all aspects of life. It has adopted a twin track approach to disability:
- Disability specific activities like physiotherapy, occupational therapy, eye care and surgery
- Mainstreaming, which means working to identify and overcome the barriers in society that persons with leprosy and disabilities face, such as physical accessibility, communication, negative attitudes that lead to social exclusion, and discriminatory legislation.
The Leprosy Mission’s disability programmes are wide-ranging:
- Physical rehabilitation – physiotherapy, occupational therapy, surgery and the provision of appliances like crutches, wheelchairs and prostheses for people with mobility problems.
- Livelihoods training and vocational training – both in TLM’s own centres and by enabling disabled people to access livelihood programmes in their communities.
- Community-based rehabilitation – ensuring that people with disabilities are included in the development that is going on in communities.
- Training – of people with disabilities to give them skills to break down barriers and stand up for their rights; and of governments and other organisations to ensure they include disabled people in their programmes.
- Research – to understand the barriers that disabled people face and the things that facilitate their access to services. As much as is possible, we conduct this research in partnership with people with disabilities themselves, as well as with universities around the world.
- Advocacy – at local, national and global level, for the rights of people with disabilities. Our global advocacy includes joint action with our partners in the International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC) and the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP).
- Promoting inclusive Christian communities – for example in South Africa where TLM partners with the organisation DisAbility ConneXion in a project called RampUp.