Topic 1.1 – Module 1 – The Global Picture of Disability

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Congratulations, you’re about to start the first Topic of the first Lesson! There are 2 Topics (Topic 1.1 and 1.2) and 3 Quizzes (Quiz 1,2,3) in this Lesson. Please read everything on this page carefully and watch the videos. Take your time before moving on to the Quiz on the next page. Have fun!

Here are some facts from international organizations about the lives of persons with disabilities around the world.

  • There are approximately 785 to 975 million persons (over age 15) with disabilities in the world. According to the latest figures from WHO, they make up more than 15% of the population. It may be more in some countries
  • Many societies discriminate against women as well as persons with disabilities creating a double disadvantage for women with disabilities
A group of people with disabilities pose for a photo.
DRPI Human Rights Monitors in Bolivia
  • 20% of the world’s poorest people have some kind of disability, and are the most disadvantaged citizens. Persons with disabilities are often the poorest of the poor (World Bank Survey 2008)
  • While no global data exists regarding indigenous persons with disabilities, available statistics from countries that collect such data show that indigenous peoples are disproportionately likely to experience disability in comparison to the general population.  Indigenous persons with disabilities often experience multiple discrimination and face barriers to the full enjoyment of their rights, based on their indigenous status and also on disability (The United Nations and Indigenous Persons with Disabilities, 2013).

A man with a disability writes with his foot.

  • In countries with life expectancies over 70 years, people spend an average of 8 years living with disabilities according to the U.N. CRPD Fact Sheet
  • According to UNENABLE, as of 29 May, 2015, 159 countries had signed and 154 had ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Similarly, 92 countries had signed and 86 had ratified its Optional Protocol.

Please watch the videos below and think about a global picture of disability, human rights, CRPD and still existing institutionalized care for people with disabilities.

Video: Moldova – The Forgotten

Video Summary

Children with disabilities represent a large proportion of all children living in institutional care. They are isolated from society because of their disabilities.

To turn on AMARA close captioning, click on the close captioning button on the bottom left side of the video next to the word amara. For full details, see the FAQ page (Question 9).

Transcript of Video

Moldova the Forgotten
Announcer, Host, Male Speaker 1-2, Sanja Saranovic, Vadim Pistrinciuc, Navi PillayTranscription provided by:
Caption First, Inc
P.O. Box 3066
Monument, Colorado 80132

>> ANNOUNCER: From United Nations Television, this is UN in Action.

>> HOST: Born with a mental disability, Mikhail Scutari was abandoned as a baby and placed in an institution for boys with similar conditions in a remote part of Moldova’s capital Chișinău.

For more than twenty years, he lived with his friends until three months ago when his life took a drastic turn. He is now living with a family in Tîrșiței village. Here his is taught basic life skills including how to raise chickens.

His new guardians, a farming couple, have two grown children of their own. They’re pioneers in a program that offers foster care for children with disabilities.

>> MALE SPEAKER 1: It was very sad. We consulted with our children and we decided to take Mikhail for one year so he can experience a real life.

>> HOST: On a visit back at the institution, Mikhail is seen as a hero by his old mates who bombard him with questions about the outside world. With no ability to read or write and no opportunity to venture outside, they are curious about simple things that one takes for granted.

>> MALE SPEAKER 2: Have you seen them write? Have they taught you to read yet? Can you cook?

>> HOST: Orhei Boys’ Institution is one of many for abandoned children in Moldova. Secluded from the real world, it is a tragedy for children says Sanja Saranovic of UNICEF.

>> SANJA SARANOVIC: Children with disabilities are invisible in Moldova. They are usually closed in institutional care without proper services, without education, any stimulation, rehabilitation services.

>> HOST: Some 80% of children placed in institutions like this one are not orphaned. Rather they are children with disabilities or born out of wedlock. Vadim Pistrinciuc, Deputy Minister of Social Protection.

>> VADIM PISTRINCIUC: Unfortunately we have inherited this – inherited this system of residential care of these big institutions from the Soviet past when the only policy existing at those times was if there is a child or an adult with problems, the only place for it – for him – is the institution.

>> HOST: The United Nations Human Rights Office and UNICEF are calling for alternative community-based initiatives for persons with disabilities. Navi Pillay, Chief of the Human Rights Office, urges Moldovan authorities to modernize these age old practices.

>> NAVI PILLAY: My office is exploring alternative ways of addressing situations like this. Institutionalization is not the only answer.

>> HOST: The United Nations is advocating for closure of institutions for children under three years old. The goal is to integrate persons with disabilities into society. The challenge lies in creating a total mind shift for the entire country.

With increased foster care families, it is hoped that children like Mikhail may one day flourish in mainstream society, living a full life just like everyone else.

This report was produced by Christine Wambaa for the United Nations.

To view the transcript for this video, click on the black bar above. To close the transcript, click on the bar again.

Video: Jorge and Julio’s story

Video Summary

Many children and adults with mental disabilities are kept in psychiatric institutions in suffering and isolation. Jorge and Julio are from Paraguay. This is their story.

To turn on AMARA close captioning, click on the close captioning button on the bottom left side of the video next to the word amara. For full details, see the FAQ page (Question 9).


Transcript of Video

Paraguay Jorge and Julio’s Story
Host, Female Speaker 1-3, Alison Hillman, Manfred Nowak

Transcription provided by:
Caption First, Inc
P.O. Box 3066
Monument, Colorado 80132

>> HOST: For the last fifteen years, Julio Rotello (ph) has been waking up behind bars. He is only twenty-three. His crime, to have a severe form of a little understood condition, autism. His sentence, to be locked away from a society that didn’t know what to do with him.

Twenty-four-year-old Jorge Bernal (ph) is also profoundly autistic. He too was locked away as a little boy. But for all they have in common, their stories have turned out very differently.

When Julio’s mother abandoned him as a baby, his grandmother, Sinforosa Dominguez (ph), was left to raise the severely mentally disabled two year old.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 1: I loved him very much. I saw him grow but I suffered a lot during that time when he had his attacks. One day he fell in the bath and crashed his head. Things were always happening to him.

>> HOST: Struggling to cope, she resorted to tying Julio to a tree to keep him from escaping. At seven years old, Julio was taken away from her and was put into the state’s only psychiatric hospital.

At first he was cared for individually by a nurse Jusilla Contrarez (ph), as seen in this footage, shot at the time.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 2: He was such a tense boy, hyperactive. He’d cried. He’d shout. He used to break everything. He used to hit himself against the wall.

When he used to run to a corner shouting and crying, I would say come here Julio my baby. Come here to my arms. He would come and put his head on my lap and he would calm down. I would stroke his head and pet him until he was calm. We would spend hours like that.

>> HOST: When the funding set aside for his care ran out, everything changed. He was taken from Jusilla and put into the men’s section where, for his own safety, he was locked up alone.

Jorge Bernal’s story began in another poor household in Asuncion. Like Julio, Jorge has an extreme form of autism. For some, this condition makes them unable to relate to the world or communicate with people around them. For others like Julio and Jorge, it can reduce them to a state of lonely despair and agitation.

After his mother, Blesita Alavalo (ph), gave birth to her sixth child, she could no longer cope with Jorge who used to run away constantly. In desperation, she turned to the authorities for help. The only solution, they told her, was to put Jorge in the institution.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 3: They told me there was no help available but I could go and visit him when I wanted because your son is never going to be useful to society they said.

In 1996, twelve-year-old Jorge was also admitted to the neuro psychiatric hospital and put in the cell next to Julio. For twenty-three hours a day, they were locked away alone in filthy, cramped cells.

This is where Alison Hillman from the organization Mental Disability Rights International found them in 2003. She shot this footage of them.

>> ALISON HILLMAN: They slept and ate in and resided in the very same space that they defecated and urinated. They were taken out of their cells to be hosed off. When people are locked away from society, they are really invisible.

>> HOST: Manfred Nowak is the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

>> MANFRED NOWAK: It is very, very important that all of those who are excluded, persons with disabilities, but those – the poor and others are integrated into normal life, that is a major principle of human rights in general.

>> HOST: In response to the human rights violations uncovered by Alison, conditions in the hospital have improved. But although the authorities are looking for an alternative, Julio remains in a cell today.

>> ALISON HILLMAN: I think mostly it’s been a lack of resources and a lack of knowing what to do. People with disabilities have the right to be in the community and to receive the services and supports that they need to live in the community.

>> HOST: While Julio’s future depends on money being found to pay for new community-based care for him, Jorge’s torment ended eighteen months ago.

After nine years in the institution, his mother was finally able to bring him home. Jorge has blossomed and relearned the social skills he lost during his years in isolation.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 3: I feel really good because it’s like it was before. I have been living with the guilt of having to put my son in there. He came back and for me that was the absolute best.

What I want now is to be able to give him the life he wants.

>> HOST: This is Gill Fickling with United Nations Television in Paraguay.

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