Published in The Myanmar Times on 10 June 2013

Written by Jessica Mudditt and Yamon Phu Thit

A report released late last month by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has found that disabled children are among the most marginalised populations in the world.

The State of the World’s Children 2013 report, which was launched in Vietnam on May 30, found that the socio-economic status of people living with disabilities is significantly lower than national averages, and that young people with disabilities are far less likely to attend high school or have access to health care.

UNICEF publishes a State of the World’s Children report each year, using data and evidence to track the progress of children in a variety of countries and regions around the world.

This year’s report recommends that government support be provided to families “so they can meet the higher costs of living and lost opportunities to earn income associated with caring for children with disabilities”.

The report also found that girls with disabilities are “less likely to get an education, receive vocational training or find employment than are boys with disabilities or girls without disabilities”.

“When you walk along the streets or go to a school, you don’t see signs of disability in Myanmar. [Disabled people] are invisible – this is nothing surprising because it happens everywhere in the world,” the UNICEF representative to Myanmar, Bertrand Bainvel, told The Myanmar Times on June 5.

Mr Bainvel said it is important to work with parents as well as with schools to change social attitudes. Due to the stigma associated with disabilities, “Sometimes parents are a bit afraid of sending children to schools,” he said.

Promoting inclusiveness by installing wheelchair access ramps, for example, results in benefits for the entire student population. Studies in other countries have found that it teaches children about diversity.

Mr Bainvel said that, “The ability to embrace diversity is becoming a key skill in modern societies.”

Myanmar has ratified the United Nations Convention on Disability, which Mr Bainvel said is “a useful starting point because it leads to reviewing policies and standards”.

A comprehensive sector review on education is underway in Myanmar, and Mr Bainvel said UNICEF report’s findings will better inform the process so that education in Myanmar can become more equitable.

According to the National Disability Survey conducted by the UN Development Program in 2009, Myanmar has a disability prevalence of 2.32 percent, which amounts to about 1.2 million people out of an estimated population of more than 60 million.

Mg Aung Myin Thu is 20-years-old and deaf. Using sign language translated by his father, he told The Myanmar Times that he doesn’t consider himself different from anyone else.

“We are the same. I am able to do everything, but my skills are different,” he said.

When Mg Aung Myin Thu goes shopping or takes a bus, he writes what he is looking for on a piece of paper. He also enjoys playing football and is a member of the Myanmar Disabled Sports Federation.

UNICEF hopes to encourage a greater number of disabled people to take part in sporting activities, as well as other aspects of community life.

To publicise the release of the report, a Special Olympics-sponsored event will be held at Aung San Stadium in Yangon on June 14 and will include a 60-metre relay race.

It is expected that the event will attract large numbers of families, as well as government officials.

“The true spirit of the Olympics is that everyone participates,” Mr Bainvel said.