Finding Solutions for People with Disabilities in Mongolia

Traditional dwelling in the Mongolian countryside.
Traditional dwelling in the Mongolian countryside.

By Sri Wening Handayani

ADB is helping persons with disabilities make an effective contribution to Mongolian society, and live with dignity.

During a preparation mission for an ADB project to ensure inclusiveness and service delivery for people with disabilities in Mongolia this year, I met with one of the stakeholders. She is one of the representatives from disabled people organizations (DPOs) and a local entrepreneur that has used her own resources to establish a small rehabilitation center to provide services for PWDs.

The lady, who lost her leg years ago in an accident that also killed her son, told me very exciting news: she was able to rehabilitate her small hospital and add another 38 beds for her rehabilitation center. The center employs PWDs to make, refit and adjust artificial limbs for other PWDs, who can stay there until their prosthetic arms or legs are ready. This is no trivial matter in Mongolia, where PWDs are more vulnerable to the rest of the population due to the tyranny of distance, lack of services outside of the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, and lack pf public transport.

More importantly, she has been able to create local employment for skilled and unskilled workers. She gets most of the contracts from government programs for PWDs. This is a true nature of a public-private partnership.

Lack of life-cycle comprehensive social protection programs for PWDs is a serious concern in Mongolia, where the disability prevalence estimated at around 4% based on the 2010 census is likely to be underestimated. About 15% of the world's population lives with some form of disabilities, of whom 2-4% experience significant difficulties in functioning, according to the World Health Organization’s first global report on the issue published in 2011. Like in Mongolia, the global disability prevalence is also higher than previous WHO estimates, which date from the 1970s and suggested a figure of around 10%.

PWDs and their households are substantially poorer than the rest of the population in Mongolia, and rank much lower on human development indicators like employment or literacy. PWDs spend much more on health services than non-disabled people, and many must add other expenditures like travel, as many health services for PWDs are only available in the capital; this added financial burden plunges PDWs deeper into poverty.

The consultation meeting with more than 25 representatives of DPOs was an incredible experience, as well as an opportunity to listen and learn about their challenges on getting education, livelihood and employment, and basic services like reproductive health, among other issues. The participants offered practical solutions to implement legal frameworks that address their problems, and improve their roles as a productive member of society.

A representative of youth DPO mentioned that their ultimate goal to live as independent citizens. They are tired of feeling excluded by being institutionalized in special government-run residences for PWDs.

Discrimination is arguably the main underlying obstacle for PWDs in Mongolia, where most non-disabled people share the attitude and perception that PWDs always need help, and cannot survive without assistance. While this may be true for persons with severe disabilities, the fact is that over 75% of Mongolian PWDs could live independently if they had proper access to public facilities and basic services. Unfortunately they don’t, so most of them live hidden within their communities, unaccounted for, and pretty much forgotten by everyone outside of their families.

PWDs in Mongolia also face a general social attitude that does not recognize them as individuals capable of contributing positively to society, and this is a major source of frustration for PWDs that often leads them to feel rejected and vulnerable.

ADB is in the process of assisting the Government of Mongolia in addressing a major social and rights issue for PWDs in Ulaanbaatar and at the aimag (province) level. The overall aim of the project is to ensure access to employment for PWDs to increase their autonomy and contribution to the economy and society in general. It will support government efforts to comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of PWDs and the Incheon Strategy, and to implement the new Law on the Rights of PWDs adopted by the Parliament of Mongolia in February 2016.

To help PWDs find jobs, the project will fund skills development programs so PWDs may enter selected industries, and bolster inclusive businesses that employ PWDs in regular jobs or as self-employed professionals. It also encourages PWDs to take part in monitoring compliance with regulation on both private and public employment quotas for PWDs, and aspires to for half of all Mongolian companies to employ at least one disabled person by 2022.

PWDs can make an effective contribution to Mongolian society, and ADB plans to help them achieve this goal to be a productive member of society with equal opportunities for all, and to live with dignity.