As the deadline looms for the U.N. to adopt its Sustainable Development Goals, people with disabilities are exposing their challenges for all the world to see, to demonstrate the urgency in improving their rights and opportunities.
Across the globe, more than 1 billion people are living with disabilities. But despite such overwhelming figures, this demographic often lacks access to the most basic rights, and is disproportionately represented among the world’s poorest groups, according to the U.N.
A number of people living with blindness and other debilitating issues in Uganda and India volunteered to be photographed by Graeme Robertson in order to inform the world about the obstacles they face.
“Framing Perceptions,” a series orchestrated by nonprofit Sightsavers, hopes to demonstrate some of the injustices people with disabilities face and how inclusion can help give this underserved group a chance to thrive and contribute to society.
Susan Atimen is blind, and the 10-year-old is thriving at the Bishop Willis Primary School in Uganda. There, a program for kids with visual impairments gives these students a chance to learn Braille and other critical subjects, but many children can't afford the fee. It costs 150,000 shillings ($85) per term, according to Opportunity Education. Susan told Sightsavers she "loves" learning English and social studies and wants to be a nurse when she grows up.
Hamza Kamuna, 16, was born blind and used to attend the Bishop Willis Primary School, which he enjoyed, but was forced to stop going because the walk is too far for him to trek every day, according to Sightsavers. "I do nothing now," Hamza told the nonprofit. "I wake up in the morning and sit. I only think about one thing, that one day I'll be back in school." Uganda has universal free education, but nearly half of all children with disabilities aren't enrolled because the schools aren't equipped to handle their needs.
A 1984 acid attack left Sankarlal Bishnoi blind. But with the help of a local organization, the 60-year-old was able to set up a shop in his house in India, which his whole family is involved in. Bishnoi lives with wife, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. "Disabled people before they join [the organization], feel ashamed to come out of the house ... but now they are confident and aware of their rights," Bishnoi said.
When Anuradha Pareek was 1 year old, her face and hands were burned in a fire. The now-32-year-old told Sightsavers she felt insecure and self-conscious about her appearance until she got involved in a local organization for people with disabilities. There, she learned about her rights and the benefits to which she’s entitled and now serves as a local government director. “Now it’s time for disabled people, especially women with disabilities, to come out of their homes, build their confidence and lead a life with dignity so that other people can follow,” Pareek told the nonprofit.
Shyam Sundar became blind 15 years ago, and sees no hope in his future, according to Sightsavers. The Rajasthan, India, man lives next door to his older brother who supports his own family, as well as Sundar and Sundar's two other blind brothers. Sundar said he spends most of his day indoors and dreads going out into the world where he's met with ridicule and where passersby often spread thorns in his path just to make his daily errands more difficult. "I simply sit at home," Sundar told Sightsavers. "There is nothing to be happy about."
Dallu Kumari became blind after contracting smallpox when she was 7. She's married, but lives with her father and sister. Kumari's mother cared and supported her until she died three years ago. Now, Kumari spends most of her day at home because her family fears that she'll get hurt if she ventures outdoors. "Because of my blindness, when I move around even inside the house sometimes I fall or hit the wall," Kumari told Sightsavers. "I rarely go out, maybe a couple of times a year."
Bhanvari Devi, 35, became blind due to complications during pregnancy. Soon after, her husband left her and Devi now lives with her parents and her two children in India. Devi has gotten support to obtain her disability certificate, travel pass and regular pension, and started training to perform household work.
While doing construction on his home, Sohanlal Meghwal endured an electric shock, which led him to have part of his left arm amputated. Following the accident, Meghwal was unable to work, became depressed and his marriage started to fall apart. But after getting involved with Bikaner’s Disabled People’s Organization, the 30-year-old learned new skills, got a job and was able to repair his relationship with his wife.
Many parents in Uganda often aren’t even aware of the education opportunities that exist for children with disabilities. Swabil Magumba, who is blind, told Sightsavers he's grateful that he has had the opportunity to attend the Bishop Willis Primary School, where he particularly enjoys learning math and science. “I like it here because the other children help me,” he said.