The occasion of the 1981 united Nations International Year of Disabled Persons provides a special opportunity to review the experiences, the achievements, and the problems associated with efforts to address the basic human needs of people with disabilities throughout the world.
The challenge has been and continues to be formidable. There are at least 500 million disabled people living in the world today - most of them in developing countries, most of them children, and most of them poor. The interplay between disability and poverty creates devastating problems for individuals, families, communities, and nations. One of the ironies of modern health care is that people are now able to live longer with more debilitating conditions. Industrial and automobile accidents injure millions worldwide. And our urban environments become ever more toxic to our physical and mental well-being. Over the past twenty years, the Peace Corps has sent volunteers throughout the world to help prevent disability, educate handicapped children, train parents to cope with these children at home, build schools and programs in local communities, develop vocational training centers for disabled adults, and strive to break down the barriers of fear, prejudice, and paternalism that further afflict the disabled citizens of the world.
There is little question that the Peace Corps has made the single largest effort to address the global dimensions of disability of any international organization in the world. Furthermore, it appears that this remarkable level of activity and achievement has taken place without grand design, but quietly and effectively, as a natural development of Peace Corps programming.
With this report, we hope to highlight those achievements and outline critical factors influencing the success and failure of special education and rehabilitation programs, and to propose useful models for consideration in future programs of the Peace Corps.
Gregory L. Dixon Partners of the Americas March, 1981
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