More than one billion people—15 percent of the world's population—live with some form of disability. This large number belies the fact that people with disabilities are often among the most marginalized, neglected, and invisible members of society, particularly in developing countries, which are home to 80 percent of the world's disabled population.
As part of its aim to provide higher education opportunities to disadvantaged groups from around the developing world, the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP) provided graduate fellowships to nearly 175 emerging social justice leaders who have disabilities and/or work in areas of disability rights, advocacy, and service provision. Since IFP's conclusion in 2013—and with support from the Ford Foundation—the Institute of International Education (IIE) has led a 10-year IFP Alumni Tracking Study that seeks to document the personal trajectories of these and other IFP alumni, as well as the impacts they are having on their home communities morebroadly.
We asked IFP alumni who work in the disability field a simple question: What challenges do individuals with disabilities face in your country and how are you working to find solutions? Alumni from around the world engaged with disability issues in various capacities responded, describing the myriad difficulties faced by people with disabilities in their home countries, as well as the efforts being made to improve their lives. This brief shares examples and common themes that emerged from the stories of alumni disability advocates in five IFP countries: Chile, India, Kenya, Russia, and Uganda.
Their responses indicate that regardless of their location or impairment, people with disabilities face similar challenges at the individual, community, and national levels. Beyond these common challenges, IFP alumni are also united by the fact that their fellowship experience gave them new tools and perspectives to promote disability rights, improve services, and advance inclusive policies in the developing world.