Disability inclusion starts with all of us
Aliou Cissé visited an inclusive school in southern Senegal, at the same time as UNICEF launches its new global disability inclusion policy and strategy (DIPAS)
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ZIGUINCHOR (Senegal), February 11th, 2023- Every child has the right to grow up feeling happy, safe, and loved. Free to play and learn with their peers. Free to find a sense of belonging to the world and feel valued – at home, at school and in their community.
But many children struggle to realize these rights. In Senegal, the number of children with disabilities is estimated at more than 35,000, and more than 60% of them are out of school. However, these statistics may not reflect the reality, as they only count the number of children formally recorded in the system.
In Senegal, UNICEF strengthened its commitment to the inclusion of children with disabilities by re-engaging the Government of Senegal on a national policy draft on inclusive and special education, with the recruitment of technical experts.
On a field mission with UNICEF in southern Senegal, Aliou Cissé, coach of the Senegalese football team, visited Lt. Aliou Badara Diallo Elementary School, an inclusive school downtown Zinguinchor city.
Supported by an organization called Sensorial Handicap Cooperation, this inclusive school helps children with disabilities to integrate into society and flourish through the establishment of an adapted, quality, and accessible educational environment.
13-year-old Mohammed Diallo has been visually impaired since birth. Living in Kandialang district, he joined this school two years ago.
"Before, our parents left us at home all the time. Two of my brothers are also visually impaired. But today, we have all integrated this inclusive class, with other children. We even organize several sport activities, including football," he declared.
"I am very happy to have gotten the chance to go to school. I love going to school because I can play with other kids. To play with many children. When I grow up, my dream is to become a teacher," he added.
In Senegal, as elsewhere, mobility or communication barriers can prevent children with disabilities from playing with friends, going to school, or receiving health and protection services. Stigma and discrimination are also other barriers that add up to their isolation.
"In some villages, some parents hide their children because they are afraid of being judged by society. But things are slowly changing," said Ousmane Sambou who promote sport in inclusive schools, supported by UNICEF's partner Special Olympics.
"By promoting sport, we not only unleash the potential of children, but also demonstrate their ability to overcome obstacles, to unleash the genius that is in them," he explained. "Many children and young people from Senegal have participated in international sport events. These successes contribute substantially to changing the perception of communities on disability."
"Whether a child is disabled or not, a child is a child. There is no difference," indicated Aliou Cissé. "Disability inclusion begins when each of us contributes to removing the barriers that exclude them from society."
"Including children with disabilities in all aspects of life must be a priority for all of us. If we provide them with an environment that allows them to fully participate in society, their energies, talents, and ideas will have a positive impact on families and communities," added Silvia Danailov, UNICEF Representative in Senegal.
At the global level, UNICEF launched its Disability Inclusion Policy and Strategy 2022-2030, setting out a framework to achieve its ambitious vision of a more inclusive world by 2030 – a world where all children with disabilities are supported, at every stage of life, to realize their rights and achieve full participation in society.
"Our vision is a world fit for every child. Inclusion is at the heart of what we do, driven by our commitment to leave no child behind," concluded Silvia Danailov.
UNICEF is working with the education authorities in Ziguinchor to set up a transition class for visually impaired children and has provided all necessary materials.
In Kedougou region, hearing-impaired children were enrolled in inclusive schools where teachers, parents and students were trained in sign language to facilitate their integration into schools.
In 2021, with UNICEF's support, a total of 619 students (299 girls, 320 boys) with disabilities were referred to specialized services and/or equipped with assistive devices.