Setting the wheels in motion for disability inclusion

Setting the wheels in motion for disability inclusion

Fact check: There are around 80 million people worldwide in need of a wheelchair. Only 20 million are made, often for those in wealthy countries. So where does that leave the other 60 million? 

In the world’s most vulnerable communities, children with a disability often face a life without freedom or mobility because they don’t have access to appropriate healthcare and support.

The good news? World Vision is partnering with other organisations to turn the tide and bring freedom through mobility to children around the world.

It’s hard work, and there’s a long way to go. But for every child, fitted with the right wheelchair, at the right time, we’re moving in the right direction. 

Disability inclusion involves providing children like Mwikalia with properly fitted wheelchairs.

Mwikali’s story

In Machakos County in Kenya, 14-year-old Mwikali draws you in with her bright smile and infectious laughter. Mwikali has recently been fitted with her first wheelchair, which has helped to unlock a world of opportunities.

Having spent the first 14 years of her life without a wheelchair, Mwikali knows the challenges of growing up with limited mobility. “I used to crawl and feel pain … now, my movement has been eased. I can move where I want. I have many friends and they help me in school to move around with me.” 

Mwikali received her wheelchair through the partnership between World Vision, Motivation Charitable Trust, Wheelchairs for Kids and Mbiuni Rehabilitation Centre in Kenya. Half a world away from rural Kenya, World Vision Australia partners with Wheelchairs for Kids, a local NGO which produces all-terrain, fit-for-purpose wheelchairs that meet World Health Organization guidelines. 

World Vision Australia ships these wheelchairs to World Vision Kenya, which partners with Motivation Charitable Trust to train local health staff and wheelchair technicians on the 8 Steps of Appropriate Wheelchair Provision. Organisations like Mbiuni Rehabilitation Centre then assess and fit children with disabilities with appropriate wheelchairs and help to provide peer support and wheelchair user training. 

For Mwikali, receiving a wheelchair has been life-changing. When Mwikali joined the Mbiuni Rehabilitation Centre, she didn’t have any physical aids to support her movement. But Mrs Munyao, one of Mwikali’s teachers, says that Mwikali is now one of the most active girls in her class and could soon join a vocational training centre. 

During the holidays, Mwikali goes home to stay with her family. Life is much easier now that Mwikali has her own wheelchair and doesn’t need her mother or siblings to help her to move around the community. 

“As much as I am living with a disability, I want to become a driver,” says Mwikali confidently. Mwikali is also considering becoming a tailor to make clothes for her community. “My mother is the first person I will make clothes for,” she says.

For Mwikali, and thousands of children like her, World Vision is helping to set the wheels in motion for positive change through wheelchair and disability programming. 

What is disability inclusion?

Disability inclusion is an integral part of World Vision’s promise to reach the most vulnerable children and ensure fullness of life for children and communities. Children with disabilities are the most vulnerable in any community we work in – less likely to access social, educational and employment opportunities, and more likely to face discrimination and abuse. 

We have a responsibility to ensure meaningful participation, protection and opportunity for children with disabilities across all areas of our programming. There are many ways in which a child may experience disability and associated disadvantage – so our response needs first to listen, engage and learn of the ways in which we can support and empower children, their families and communities. 

One of the most urgent needs in our disability work is the lack of resources to enable participation and fullness of life. Addressing this gap in resources is often the first step in enabling access for children with disabilities to learn, grow and thrive in their communities. 

Mwikali in her wheelchair plays catch with her teacher Mr Mbuni

Mwikali plays catch with her teacher, Mr Mbuni.

The ACCESS Project 

From 2014-2017, the USAID-funded ACCESS project was implemented by World Vision across five countries (India, Kenya, Nicaragua, Romania and El Salvador). The project sought to bridge the gap between appropriate wheelchair services and community development organisations, to ensure that people with mobility limitations could exercise their rights enshrined in the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

Through a unique partnership consisting of technical experts, local service providers and community-based World Vision staff, the project helped to ensure that people with mobility limitations had access to appropriate products and were able to enjoy full participation in their communities. 

The 8 Steps+ 

As part of the ACCESS project, World Vision developed the 8 Steps+ as a model for holistic wheelchair programming. Building on the World Health Organization’s 8 Steps on Appropriate Wheelchair Provision, 8 Steps+ recognises that wheelchair provision plus inclusive communities are key to empowering people with disabilities in the long-term. 

The 8 Steps+ model is built on the belief that while an appropriate wheelchair may be necessary for mobility, it is not the only element needed for social inclusion. It takes community engagement to not only support service provision, but also to ensure inclusive societies and environments.

World Vision has the relationships and trust to challenge negative attitudes, engage local institutions, and help build communities that are inclusive of people with disabilities. These assets are as important as technical expertise in ensuring that wheelchair users have appropriate wheelchairs and are able to take full advantage of the opportunities that their wheelchairs provide.

Scaling up 8 Steps+

From 2018-2019, World Vision received funding from USAID to scale up 8 Steps+ across four countries: Kenya, Malawi, El Salvador and Tanzania. In partnership with technical experts and local service providers, we achieved the following key outcomes:

  • World Vision staff and community leaders were trained on identifying and referring children with disabilities to appropriate services.
  • Service providers were trained on appropriate wheelchair provision as per the 8 Steps.
  • The quality and quantity of wheelchair provision increased.
  • Community advocacy and education to support disability inclusion and empowerment were undertaken.

Want to learn more?

Read about our partner, Wheelchairs for Kids, and our work to support children with disabilities across southern and eastern Africa.