As a child Tomas Lagerwall paid a visit to a “cripple center” in his native Sweden. “I remember seeing all those people sitting in wheelchairs doing nothing,” said Lagerwall, secretary general of Rehabilitation International, a network of more than 230 organizations in 90 countries devoted to promoting the rights of the disabled.
But over the years attitudes toward people with disabilities have changed, Lagerwall said at a talk at the School of Public Health in January. The 19th-century notion of institutionalizing them fell by the wayside as people with disabilities became more independent and capable of negotiating the outside world. “Today we talk about disability rights and an inclusive society,” Lagerwall said.
To that end Rehabilitation International is promoting a UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities as well as community-based rehabilitation (CBR), which provides cost-effective programs in developing countries where at least three-quarters of those with disabilities live. “The CBR concept is that two-thirds of the rehabilitation work can be done at the local level, with local staff. It does not have to be very costly.