WHO, also known as the World Health Organization, together with the World Bank, released a 300+ page study on disability this week. (Click here for the easy version.)
The foreword was written by Professor Stephen Hawking, the 69-year-old British physicist who was diagnosed with ALS when he was 21.
"Disability need not be an obstacle to success...Governments throughout the world can no longer overlook the hundreds of millions of people with disabilities who are denied access to health, rehabilitation, support, education and employment, and never get the chance to shine."For the past couple of decades Stephen has not been able to speak or walk, but human ingenuity has given him a voice (albeit with an American accent, according to his website) and wings.
Friday I interviewed WHO's Alana Officer, the coordinator for the disability and rehabilitation team and executive editor of the report (and Kiwi Do-Gooder). She told me one of the key findings of the report is the barriers people with disabilities face.
There are 1 billion people on the planet with disabilities that leave them on the fringes of society and life.
Education, jobs, health care and prevention are limited to the disabled, Alana said, and thus far, "No country is doing it all, or has got it all right."
And while communicable diseases used to be a big cause, preventable diseases like diabetes and heart disease are
now largely increasingly responsible. (Do you want fries with that cigarette?)
The good news is that the report shows progress in the right direction around the world.
Alana listed the U.S.'s Americans with Disabilities Act (which grants civil rights & physical access to public buildings to those with disabilities) as one of the most progressive pieces of legislation in the world. She also noted that the U.S. is ahead of the world's curve in the area of information and communication.
But if we've got our own American Stephen Hawking out there in those 50 shining states, what are the chances that instead of his creating and discovering, that he sits silenced in an old wheel chair, stuck at home or a Medicaid nursing facility, unable to live the life he desires? Where's the freedom for him?
In the next couple of weeks I'll be reporting for the WMNF News on folks in Tampa Bay with disabilities and how they get by. I'll keep you posted.