There are over one billion people with a disability in the world today (World Report on Disability, WHO, 2011) which is about 15% of the world’s population.
Because most services and programs are not accessible to them and because they are subjected to high levels of stigma and discrimination, people with a disability and their families are much more likely to be among the very poor. The World Bank estimates that 1:5 of people living below the extreme poverty line are affected by disabilities.
In Tanzania, as in many developing countries, actual rates of disability are hard to determine but current rates are recorded at 7.8% with slighter higher prevalence on the mainland compared with Zanzibar and higher rates in rural areas compared to urban areas (Disability survey – National Bureau of Statistics, 2008).
Disability cuts across all the major sectors of development in Tanzania. People with disabilities need access to education, health, livelihoods, gender and environmental programs to the same extent as their non-disabled peers. Traditionally however, their access to development programs has been limited – not because they are not relevant, but because programs are implemented without regard to how people with disabilities will be able to access them.
The main issues facing disabled people in Tanzania are linked inextricably to chronic poverty and discrimination – lack of access to formal education; lack of access to employment and income generating activities; and a society (and government) which sees disability largely as a medical or charity based issue. Until very recently the government did not view accessibility of services for disabled people as being a priority and as a consequence pro-disability legislative frameworks are still evolving.
Tanzania now has a Disabilities Act (2010), and a set of Regulations (2012) have just been published so there is increased potential for disabled people to be able to use legal frameworks as a basis for their advocacy. Overall however disabled people’s poverty – their lack of access to education and basic health services is not being adequately addressed. This can only really be resolved once government and service providers are held accountable which will involve increasing the capacity of disabled people and the communities in which they live, to lobby effectively.