How a Pacific islander with disability is helping build a better future for all

3 December 2012: International Day of Persons with Disabilities

November 2012

Few would have predicted that Ipul Powaseu would grow up to be a ministerial advisor and a driving force behind the country’s efforts to ratify the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (CRPD).

Overcoming barriers

Kristen Pratt, WHO, Ipul Powaseu, Chair Papua New Guinea Assembly of Disabled Persons, Dr Fabian Ndenzkako, WHO, at the launch of the World Report, Port Moresby, PNG
WHO/S. Busin

Ipul was born in a small village in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and affected by polio at an early age. She needs crutches to walk and cannot walk long distances. This made it particularly hard to get to school: she lived 2 kilometres away, and often arrived late. But her teachers were sympathetic. She was a bright child and the teachers would often look out for her and delay ringing the school bell until she arrived.

Ipul’s family thought that it would be enough for her to learn to read and write. They assumed she would leave school after Grade 6. But Ipul kept going. Each year she came out among the top students in the class, and went on to graduate from university with a master’s degree.

Ipul praises her schools for removing some of the social and physical barriers to her achieving her full academic potential.

Becoming change agents

Today Ipul wears many hats. As Chairperson of the PNG Assembly of Disabled Persons, she works closely with the government. She says, “People with disabilities are now taking their responsibilities as change agents seriously. We recognize that unless we take the first step, no one will listen or recognize us. Change cannot occur when people work in isolation. We must work together for a better society for all.”

Breaking new ground on inclusion

On 3 October 2012, Ipul joined representatives from WHO Country Office and the World Bank Pacific Office to launch the World report on disability at the 2nd Pacific Disability Ministers’ Meeting in Port Moresby. This meeting of government leaders from 14 Pacific nations broke new ground on inclusion: each country delegation included representatives of its national Disabled People’s Organizations who contributed to the debate. The Right Honourable Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neill, said, “We must not delay efforts to respond positively to issues and constraints that limit and restrict disability services and opportunities.”

The launch of the World report on disability offered an overview of the evidence on disability and recommendations for action. Ipul and other disability advocates urged ministers to use the report as an important tool in delivering on their national and regional disability strategies and meeting their obligations under the CRPD. As Ipul said, “This is about rights, but it is also about removing barriers so that the enormous and often untapped talent of people with disabilities can be used in national development”.

Create an inclusive and accessible world

Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all is the theme of the 2012 International Day of Persons with Disabilities celebrated on 3 December. The World report on disability provides “how to” information for governments to make this happen in areas such as:

  • health
  • rehabilitation
  • social support
  • education, and
  • employment.

The report includes recommendations on ways to improve access health services, such as establishing health care standards for people with disabilities, and strategies to address financial barriers. It also suggests using alternative models of service delivery, such as telemedicine and mobile clinic services.

Members of the WHO Rehabilitation Guideline Development, Geneva.
Mohammed El Khadiri

Ipul is also one of ten international expert members of the WHO Rehabilitation Guidelines Development Group. This group is leading efforts to develop global guidelines on health-related rehabilitation, providing recommendations on how to develop, expand and improve the quality of rehabilitation services in less-resourced setting. Rehabilitation is proven to overcome difficulties in functioning, improve participation levels, and reduce pressure on health systems. However, significant gaps in the provision of and access to rehabilitation exist.

Rehabilitation: small investments create enormous benefits

“Being a person with a physical impairment, I know just how important access to rehabilitation services is to being able to participate fully in society” says Ipul. “I hope that these guidelines will prove to governments around the world that the relatively small investment required for rehabilitation has enormous benefits in enabling people with disability to attain their fullest potential in terms of independence and participation.”

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