February 2023
A street scene in Congo. A man speaks into a microphone while a woman with a video camera films him. A few local people have gathered to watch. Passersby on a motorcycle glance over at the gathering.

Wrapping up work on a U.S. State Department grant to combat human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a team led by the Institute on Community Integration recorded an uptick in positive attitudes toward disability in a random survey of 1,000 people in the DRC’s fifth-largest urban area.

Compared with attitudes in the region as the two-year project began, respondents reported more positive behaviors and awareness of the rights of people with disabilities, said ICI’s Lynda Lahti Anderson, who, along with Macdonald Metzger, led several initiatives to connect with local media and to support people with disabilities to tell their stories and learn media skills.

“We were actually quite surprised to see an increase after a relatively short time. It’s important to note that the second survey was a different group of respondents, but we did have a number of areas where there was a positive change in people’s attitudes about disability,” Anderson said.

One manager of a medical center who participated in the survey said he had heard about the advocacy trainings going on in the area, and it prompted him to make some accessibility improvements at the center.

With a partner, Jacques Yaetema, the team developed a how-to guide for advocates working to make polling places more accessible.

“A lot of projects we’ve seen in the past have helped young people with disabilities learn new skills, like shoe repair,” said John Ntonta, founder of the Kadiwaku Family Foundation, who partnered with ICI on the work. “In Kisangani, where we believe 80% of people with disabilities are left behind when accessing essential services and humanitarian aid, helping people with disabilities understand their human rights and how to advocate for them is crucial.”

During one of the ICI training events, Ntonta’s foundation formed a coalition, Kisangani Disability Rights Advocates, which promotes disability rights.

“We’re seeing a lot of organizations and movements step up for disability rights, demanding that the state be held accountable for ensuring that everyone has equal and meaningful access to essential services and employment opportunities,” Ntonta said. “Now, we need capacity-building programs so people with disabilities can acquire the skills they need.”

The organizations are doing laudable work with few resources, and most of them are aimed at a specific concern or disability, Anderson said.

“We shared with them that while they are all doing good work, they were doing it alone. If you get together, pretty soon you are a powerful force.” She also shared some of the history of disability advocacy in the United States.

“We did a short training at the right moment, and they really took it from there,” Anderson said. “What they’ve accomplished in the last year is astounding to me.”