Advocating for People with Disability in Cameroon


Around the world, we see how people contribute to the development of their societies. There is no society which is stagnant since from creation and there is no society which can really move on when there is an imbalance in development. Disability around the world has sparked much fire into the eyes of many organizations and governments. From the UN fact sheet in 2006, 25% of the world’s population is affected by disability, 70% of people living with disability are in developing countries and 20% of people living in poverty have a disability.

People with disability in low income countries are affected by the same factors which cause poverty for others, but also face added disadvantages. Children with disabilities face barriers to education; youths with disabilities face barriers to training; adults with disabilities face barriers to decent work. Most damaging of all, families and communities may think that people with disabilities are incapable of learning skills and working.

Work is the means by which an individual can escape poverty and secure the necessities of life. This is so critical in developing countries where people with disabilities are heavily stigmatized in many ways.

Disability and Poverty Cycle

  • Left at home alone while parents go to find work. This means that they are not involved in the development process of their communities.
  • Families caring rather than participating in livelihood/education activities.
  • Minimal access to mainstream schools/services
  • Poor awareness of preventable impairments
  • Focus on institutional base care rather than participatory/equal opportunity based approaches. This cycle clearly shows how poverty, vulnerability and impairments move hand in gloves. Good development practices equal good disability practices. 


As CoE volunteers, we ought to take a close look at the global attitudes towards disability. The experiences of disabled people in the Western world gave birth to the social model of disability. It is an expression of commonality and resistance to the dominant individual, medical, and tragedy models. To look globally, however, raises a possibly more complex and controversial picture. On one hand is the social and historical construction of disability. To be impaired in India, Brazil, Cameroon or in the United States—in the high-income “developed” or minority world and the low-income “developing” or majority world—addresses widely differing experiences and encompasses different meanings. Perhaps not surprisingly, the picture is complex, including both cultural diversity and commonalities (Flood 2005; Sheldon 2005). Provision for disabled people also varies greatly from country to country. Most countries in the majority world, for instance, do not have a welfare state.

Though attitudes toward disability are generally universally negative, there are cultural differences (Ingstad and Reynolds Whyte 1995). First are the ways in which the body and physical characteristics are given value and meaning. Western biomedical definitions of impairment are not universal, and perceptions of the body and mind vary across cultures and also change over time (Hughes 2002). Religion and the messages various religious doctrines convey about disability are also significant (Ingstad and Reynolds Whyte 1995), as is language and the notion that key concepts may not easily translate into other languages and cultures (Stone 1999b).

Notwithstanding the importance of cultural differences, subtle and not so subtle, it can be argued that commonality is an overriding picture. Commonality is engendered particularly by multi deprivation, predominantly through common experiences of poverty. Disabled people are the poorest of the poor in all countries, in terms of relative poverty in the developed world and in terms of absolute poverty in the developing world (Stone 1999a).

The establishment and growth of an international disabled people’s movement, particularly through the Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI), is in part at least an expression and realization of such commonality. As of 2007 DPI represented approximately 130 national assemblies, many of which, in turn, represent thousands of disabled individuals with all manner of impairments, including people with intellectual impairment. In 1992 DPI acknowledged that it was a human rights organization and that its membership was individually and collectively committed to global justice for disabled people. DPI is also committed to ensuring that the voice of disabled people is heard in the development of all policies and programs that directly affect them, a commitment expressed in the DPI slogan, Nothing About Us Without Us. As a result, DPI has had considerable influence in formulating the United Nations World Program of Action Concerning Disabled Persons (1983) and the United Nations Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993).

In 1992 DPI joined other international disability organizations to set up an international information network on disability and human rights with the objective of supporting disabled people’s actions at the grassroots to implement those rights. This network, Disability Awareness in Action, published a monthly newsletter, the Disability Tribune, from 1992 to 2005 and produces numerous resource kits on issues of particular concern, such as organization building, consultation and influence, campaigning, and working with the media (Hurst 2005).

As CoE members, there are so many ways through which we can involve persons with disability in the development process. But before this, the first question which comes to our minds is “where do we get started?” This is where you as a CoE volunteer and a strong advocate for the MDGs could probably begin which an ADVOCACY strategy.

  • Commitment to tackling discrimination and exclusion
  • Show that disability is relevant to your organization’s existing values and development strategies
  • Get training in disability inclusive development
  • Nominate a point person
  • Find local disabled persons organizations
  • Involved people with disabilities and their organizations
  • Get the board involved
  • Choose one thing you can do well (don’t try everything at once)
  • Recruit staffs that have disabilities to contribute to the development process of their communities.

The next question which we must ask ourselves is, why advocate for persons with disabilities? Advocacy is a process of influencing people, polices, practices, structures and systems in order to bring about change or to ensure that minority and disadvantaged groups in the society have a means to know about, and gain the same life opportunities as others.

Persons with disabilities make up a significant percentage of our population and so they need to be considered and treated as full members of our society. That is why CoE is involving Persons With Disabilies (PWDs) in her development program. They are and are supposed to be given equal opportunities to make significant contributions wherever they are found, from the family level to the wider society. (Social Inclusion)

Unfortunately, this has not been the case in our communities. Many people erroneously view persons with disabilities as people who should be pitied and protected and as people who don’t know what is good for them, people who need to be decided for because they are weak or are suffering people. Also, society has consciously or unconsciously placed barriers on persons with disabilities that limit them from fully maximizing their potentials or making contributions in their families or communities. Instead of recognizing their barriers and trying to remove them, to allow or give persons with disabilities equal opportunity to make their own significant contributions, many people have often seen the impairment of persons with disabilities as the barriers or limitations to their participations in mainstream activities of life.

How do we now build up an advocacy strategy? Once you have an advocacy strategy in place, you can start making more detail decisions about your policy goals. As CoE volunteers, some of the important things you will check are:

  • Policy issue or problem                                                                                                                                                              
  • Set your goals and objectives 
  • Study the policy environment
  • Identify target audiences
  • Identify allies
  • Develop the message
  • Method of transmitting the message
  • Define advocacy activities
  • Setting a time line
  • Monitoring and Evaluation

We could have an advocacy plan like this one if we really want to act as society’s developers.

Another strategy that I recommend for civil society organizations like the CoE to use in their development process is the Community Based Rehabilitation Program (CBRP). It is a strategy within general community development for rehabilitation, equalization of opportunities and social inclusion of all persons with disabilities. A 2004 joint ILO, UNESCO and WHO paper repositioned CBR as a strategy for rehabilitation, equalization of opportunity, poverty reduction and social inclusion of people with disabilities. The goals of CBR are to ensure the benefits of the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities reach the majority by:

  • supporting people with disabilities to maximize their physical and mental abilities, to access regular services and opportunities, and to become active contributors to the community and society at large;
  • activating communities to promote and protect the human rights of people with disabilities for example by removing barriers to participation;
  • facilitating capacity building, empowerment and community mobilization of people with disabilities and their families.

If we look at the CBR, it is implemented in more than 90 countries through the combined efforts of people with disabilities, their families, communities, and relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations working in disability and development. Involvement and participation of people with disabilities and their families is at the heart of CBR.

WHO, in partnership with other UN agencies, collaborating centers and nongovernmental organizations is assisting these efforts by

  • developing guidelines for CBR in partnership with other UN Agencies, nongovernmental organizations including Disabled People's Organizations;
  • conducting regional and country workshops to promote CBR and to develop national or regional CBR strategies;
  • supporting Member States to initiate or strengthen existing CBR programs;
  • Developing a CBR Global database and network.

It is usually said that disability is not an inability. Therefore, what an able person can do, a disable person too is capable of doing that same thing.

The Role of CBR:

The role of the CBR in education is  to work with the education authorities to help make education inclusive at all levels, and to facilitate access to education inclusive at all levels, and to facilitate access to education and lifelong learning for people with disabilities. CBR programs provide a link between people with disabilities and development initiatives.

The empowerment component of the CBR is the final process which greatly focuses on the importance of empowering PWDs, their family members and communities to facilitate the mainstreaming of disability across each sector and to ensure that everybody is able to access their rights entitlements.

List of Some Famous people with disability

Albert Einstein

The Mathematician/Physicist who had a learning disability and did not speak until age 3. He had a very difficult time doing maths in school. It was also very hard for him to express himself through writing.

Alexander Graham Bell

Had a learning disability


Has dyslexia

Christopher Reeve

Never has a person with a disability commanded so much media attention in recent history. Christopher Reeve, crippled after a horse-riding injury, wants to be up on his feet & wants to help others stand confident too. His life is now dedicated to harnessing the power of medical research to get up & ride again.

David Blunkett

The Rt Hon David Blunkett MP is without doubt Britain's most famous guide dog owner. Often photographed with his guide dogs - Ted, Offa and Lucy - David Blunkett also holds the powerful political post of Home Secretary. Joining the Labor party aged 16, he was elected to Sheffield City Council aged 22. He was the council leader from 1980 to 1987 until he was elected MP for Sheffield Brightside. Seen as the archetypal municipal Socialist, he is in many senses a traditional Labor man - beard-wearing and blunt-talking. Arguably, he is a role model for disabled people who just want to get on with their lives.

Thomas Edison

Edison is the great inventor who had over 1,000 patents and his inventions are in various fields used in our daily life. In his early life he was thought to have a learning disability and he could not read till he was twelve and later he himself admitted that he became deaf after pulling up to a train car by his ears. He first captured world attention by inventing the phonograph. His most popular invention is the electric light bulb. He also developed the telegraph system. He also became a prominent businessman and his business institution produced his inventions and marketed the products to the general people.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Roosevelt had Polio, was governor of New York State then elected President of the United States for 4 terms.

George Washington

Had a learning disability. He could barely write and had very poor grammar skills.

Francsico de Goya

Spanish painter (1746-1828): At age 46, an illness left him deaf. He went on to create the most famous Spanish art of the 19th century.

Helen Keller

(Devoted Life to Persons with Disabilities) She was Blind, Deaf, and Mute

Ian Dury

movement/walking disability, resulting from polio. Hits from 1978 ("Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick") into 1980's. Recorded "Spasticus Autisticus" which was banned from radio, not surprising, as lyrics could be mis-construed as disabled-ist

John Milton

English Author/poet (1608-1674): He became blind at age 43. He went on to create his most famous epic, Paradise Lost.

Lord Byron

"Mad, bad and dangerous to know", Britain's great romantic was also born with talipes, a club foot. It is said that he "walked with difficulty but wandered at will". He toured Europe extensively and captured the popular imagination through his poetry and his personality. From gloomy egoism through to satiric realism he was renowned for his writings, his sexual ambivalences and his championing of Greek independence from the Turks. Disability activist Tom Shakespeare summed him up in the following way: "Most of his poetry hasn't stood the test of time, but he was a blockbuster in his day, and like very few other heroes, his name is still used as an adjective - 'Byronic', meaning dashing.”

If these people could contribute to development, it therefore means that the sky is the limit for others with disabilities.

by Peter Umenjoh

Umenjoh Peter,
Department of Special Education,
Faculty of Education.
University of Buea-(
Republic of Cameroon.