Helen Keller, Stephen Hawking, Franklin Roosevelt. These individuals are all notable figures who have made significant achievements, despite being people with disabilities. Do you know what they have in common regarding their success?
The key to their success was the unwavering support of dedicated assistants. Helen Keller, a deaf-blind social activist, had her teacher, Anne Sullivan, as her guiding force. Despite Stephen Hawking, a theoretical physicist, having all his muscles paralyzed due to ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), he had Jane Wilde as his unwavering support. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led the U.S. through the Great Depression as President, had lower body paralysis due to polio. However, his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, stood by his side as his trusted political partner. They can transcend their disabilities and achieve remarkable feats due to the support of those around them.
If they lacked supportive assistants, the groundbreaking theories that greatly advanced modern science and the "New Deal" policy that rescued the U.S. economy during the Great Depression might not have materialized. We must create opportunities for individuals with disabilities to have faith in their abilities and pursue their aspirations.
According to the 2018 UN report on disability and development, the journey toward economic empowerment for individuals with disabilities remains full of challenges. Prejudice and discrimination that label people with disabilities as unable to work create barriers to their economic self-sufficiency. In fact, as per the 4th Rwanda Population and Housing Census, the labor force participation rate (LFPR) for people with disabilities stands at 56%, which is lower than that of the non-disabled population (75%). In comparison to households without disabilities, those that include individuals with disabilities are more susceptible to poverty.
As a result of poverty, individuals with disabilities often encounter challenges in accessing education and realizing their fundamental rights, which should be available to everyone. There may be future social innovators, brilliant scientists, or even presidents among them. We must create opportunities for people with disabilities to unlock their potential and pursue their dreams starting now.
Mushimiyimana Gaudence, a disability rights activist in Rwanda with 20 years of experience, became a person with disabilities due to a sudden accident in 1992. Since then, she has been actively engaged in advocating for disability rights and self-reliance. Through meeting various individuals with disabilities, Gaudence has become aware of the challenges disabled people face in achieving independence, such as low self-esteem, lack of knowledge, and skills. With a belief "all individuals with disabilities have the ability to create change," Gaudence started the DisAbility Link Center to support individuals with disabilities in realizing their full potential and living independently, regardless of their disabilities.
DisAbility Link Center provides vocational training, independent living skills training, and empowerment education for youth with disabilities. Through these programs, youth with disabilities are prepared to build self-esteem and become self-reliant in their communities. In particular, DisAbility Link Center offers a 6-month intensive baking training program to promote economic independence for youth with disabilities. The proceeds from the donuts and bread sales made during the training are used to sustain the center. Graduates of the program have opportunities for internships and employment at nearby hotels and bakeries, taking their first steps towards self-reliance.
One unique aspect of the education provided at DisAbility Link Center is disability & learning support services. As diverse people with various disabilities come together for education, the center strives to ensure that everyone has equal access to educational opportunities through tailored learning support services. For example, sign language interpretation is provided for people with hearing impairments, and transportation services are offered for students with physical disabilities who may have difficulty visiting the center. These efforts are made to ensure that all young people with disabilities can effectively participate in the bakery training program.
DisAbility Link embarked on the journey of creating opportunities for people with disabilities to realize their abilities, achieve their highest potential, and benefit from their independent living by availing on the local market of a wide range of affordable and accessible skills, knowledge, assistive products, and services they need since 2015. The center offers vocational skills, life skills, assistive products, and services to people with disabilities. However, the most vulnerable youth and adults with disabilities who 100% depend on other people to survive are still missing out on knowledge and skills development programs. The burden of extra cost (sign language interpretation, personal assistance, guides, transport, etc) attached to their diverse disabilities make it harder to dream.
The DisAbility Link Center plans to purchase ovens, flour mixers, baking ingredients, and other items needed for baking education and support for individuals with disabilities through impact donations. This initiative aims to provide 30 vulnerable young people with disabilities with appropriate learning support tailored to their needs, allowing them to pursue independence through baking education.
Representative of DisAbility Link Center
"No one is perfect in this world. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. People with disabilities are no different. What's more important than disabilities is to focus on each person's strengths and help them cultivate their potential. Every person with a disability has the potential to make a difference!"