The problem

At least 15% of the global population lives with a disability. Of these, 80% live in developing countries. The barriers that these people face range from being unable to access health care, blocked from an education, and being subjected to severe social stigma from their communities – all the way to being kept hidden away inside and denied their freedom.

That’s over a billion people who have fewer opportunities to do the things we often take for granted: gain an education, make a living, lead a full life.

Disability traps individuals in a cycle of poverty. In its 2011 report on disability, the World Health Organisation tells us that people with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed, generally earn less even when employed, and will find it far harder to escape from poverty due to discrimination, limited access to transport, and inaccessibility of resources.*

People with disabilities are also far less likely to get an education, without which they will struggle to provide for themselves and their families, meaning their children are likely to continue living in poverty when they grow up.

With the number of people with disabilities set to increase in the future, this is a growing issue we can’t afford to ignore.

The context

For people in sub-Saharan Africa, the challenges posed by living with a disability are more stark than in the UK. People living in lower income countries are more likely to develop a disability as a result of poor nutrition, lack of access to health services and lack of information. Likewise, disability itself is often the cause of acute poverty. And the reality is that developing countries are less likely to be able to provide the support that people with disabilities need.

The World Health Organisation Disability Report states that 12.8% of people in Ghana are living with a disability. Even though Ghanaian law stresses that people with disabilities should be protected against discrimination and abuse, this framework hasn't worked in practice. People on the ground still experience abuse, exclusion and rejection due to disability. The national statistics show that the literacy rate for adults with disabilities is 56%, compared to 70% for non-disabled adults. And for women with disabilities, this drops to 47%. (Source: GCE,2014).

Next door in Burkina Faso, the situation is even worse. According to the UK Department for International Development, the country has the worst literacy rates for people with disabilities in the world. It's also estimated that 66% of children with disabilities ages 6-18 don't or have never gone to school.

Our solution

Disability inclusion is a complex issue, and there’s no simple solution. But, when it comes to the stigma and discrimination that block people with disabilities from having a voice in their communities, there are simple approaches that can transform lives.

For over 12 years, we’ve used inclusive sport as a way to even the playing field. Sport is a universal language, and inclusive sports – designed specifically for players with disabilities – put people with disabilities in the centre of the court, whilst encouraging communities to re-think their negative beliefs and attitudes.

When communities watch and take part in inclusive sport, it enables them to better understand disability. And where there’s more understanding about disability, the social stigma and cultural misconceptions that keep people with disabilities out of education and out of jobs start to fade.

We know this approach works. Since 2005, we’ve worked with partners in Burkina Faso and Ghana to promote inclusive sports and change the lives of people with disabilities. Together we’ve

  • brought the first ever Burkinabé Paralympians to the UK so they could compete in the 2012 Paralympics;
  • Worked with seven disability organisations in Mali to build the capacity, reach and impact of their work for disabled people in and around Bamako.
  • Worked alongside Nottinghamshire County Football Club and Npower to support the development of inclusive sports in Burkina Faso, and produced a resource pack that enabled the Department of Education to incorporate inclusive sports into their curriculum.

Earlier this year, we launched a unique project called REACT. REACT brought together an equal mix of visually impaired and fully sighted volunteers from the UK and Ghana to coach goalball, a sport designed for people with visual impairments. Over 8 weeks, the team

  • established goalball teams in six communities
  • developed 218 pieces of goalball equipment, including knee and elbow pads, goalball balls, eye shades and court line systems.
  • delivered 63 hours of goalball training
  • reached a total of 75,998 people through community presentations and sessions on local radio.

Now we’re ready to roll out our inclusive sports programme on a wider scale. Fair Play will bring together our decades of experience, our understanding of disability, and our commitment to equality.

We’re looking for partners to help us bring this ambitious programme to life.

Click any of the links below, or contact Caleb Rowan at [email protected] to find out how you can help.


*WHO, Global Disability Report (2011), pg. 10; p.8