The degree of disability a person experiences is frequently related to society’s adaptation to meet the needs of people with varying abilities. This is known as the social model of disability which highlights the role of the environment in reducing or increasing the ability of individuals to participate equally in everyday life. For example, a person in a wheelchair has the impairment of not being able to walk. The disability, however, may be that he cannot take up services due to a lack of building access. Protection workers must consider any additional needs or risk factors a person may have as a result of his impairment and disability. Children in developing countries are more vulnerable to disability since poverty and conflicts increase the incidence of impairments, and reduce the provision of necessary health, education, social services, and adaptive provisions to help include children of all abilities.
Children with impairments or special needs are highly vulnerable to discrimination, abandonment, abuse, exploitation, injury and death, since they are more reliant on the cooperation and support of others to meet their basic needs, and may be less able to express their wishes. In some cultures, children with special needs are actively excluded from participating in society since they may be viewed as a source of shame, or unworthy of care and protection.
Government policies should seek to reduce the incidence of injuries and diseases via adequate health care, including education, immunizations, nutrition, and sanitation. All programming and policies for children should promote the social inclusion of children with disabilities at every level. Children should benefit from the reduction of physical and social barriers, adaptation of services and/or rehabilitation assistance in order to enable them to participate as fully as possible in their communities. This includes family support, health facilities, access to education, and respite services to enable children to fulfill their potential. Children of all abilities must be empowered to express their views and to influence their own lives.
The resources in this section focus on children with disabilities in developing countries, and those affected by conflict. They highlight their vulnerability to exclusion and abuse, and provide examples of projects to address the needs of children with special needs.