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Blog: Being young and disabled in the city

Photo: Francisco Anzola / Flickr licensed under CC-BY-2.0

Mar 2019

Many disabled people experience social isolation, and struggle to participate in society. Many people with disabilities feel marginalised, with evidence from Kenya and Liberia highlighting lower voting-participation, and struggles to find sustainable employment, particularly in towns and cities.

In Ethiopia, many young people migrate to small towns and big cities in the hope of access to better health treatment, formal education and employment. This migration often includes people with disabilities hoping to improve their life prospects. However, lack of community awareness about disability and the limited opportunities for employment can leave them isolated and in a more vulnerable position than they were initially.

The Challenge

While migration is not an easy path for many disabled youth, the absence of schools, limited employment opportunities and health centres in rural areas force many people to leave their homes in the search for a better life. Yet, once in the city, other barriers that prevent many from fully participating in education and employment are amplified for disabled people.

Many disabled youth arrive in the city without a formal education, having dropped out of school because of a lack of community awareness coupled with a lack of assistive devices for their needs. In the city some lose contact with their family, can only find informal work to make a living and draw on support from their peers. Additionally, without an identity card in their new residence, they cannot access available services for marginalised and vulnerable youth. 

Beyene's Story

Beyene* is a 24-year-old man. He grew up in the countryside in the Amhara region in northern Ethiopia. As a young boy, he was given a vaccination shot which was allegedly not properly administered by a health worker. This caused paralysis in one leg. 

Because of the lack of appropriate medical treatment for his leg, Beyene dropped out of school aged 11. He came to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, with his father to gain access to the necessary healthcare. His father returned home, and Beyene stayed in Addis Ababa at the Cheshire Home, an NGO which provides prosthetics and orthotic appliances. Beyene faced new challenges, particularly around the requirements of government organisations and charities in providing services, as well as poor public understanding towards disabilities.

In 2007, the requirement to access the services of the Cheshire Home changed. Beyene and others had to produce an identity card to prove that they were residents of Addis Ababa. While Beyene appealed to the Office of Labour and Social Affairs to help him, they did not provide any support. Without his identity card he could not access the services he had travelled so far to receive. With the absence of an indentity card, and having lost contact with his relatives, Beyene was truly isolated. 

Beyene also tried to complete his education. But without a certificate proving he attended school up to grade five, he was not allowed. Even with a certificate, his working hours and the long distance from the school meant that in reality he would not be able to complete his education.

Beyene now works as shoe shiner and lives with four other youth in a shared rented bedroom. Three out of five of them have disabilities due to leg injuries. 

“Four of my friends occasionally drink alcohol. I smoke cigarettes and chew Khat. I do that to deal with the problem of depression”. 


  • Providing access to better quality healthcare in rural areas
  • Schools need to be physically accessible, and also foster a more inclusive educational environment to improve the wellbeing of young people with disabilities
  • NGOs and the government need to work to raise awareness and improve the wider public understanding of disability
  • Breaking down the bureaucratic barriers for vulnerable people in cities, specifically addressing the barrier that lack of identity papers and other documentation presents
  • Targeted interventions that include a focus on psychological aspects of wellbeing (such as social isolation) as well as material indicators
  • Better recognition for informal work and protection for workers in the informal sector


The research team is funded by ESRC-DFID’s Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research and includes University of BrightonGoldsmiths UniversityCHADETSchool of Social Work Addis Ababa UniversityChildHope UKActionAid Nepal and Research Centre for Education and Innovation Development (CERID), Tribhuvan University.

This impact story was written collaboratively by partners from CHADET, Leonard Cheshire, Goldsmiths University, and the Institute of Development Studies. 


* Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality



The Impact Initiative blog posts are either from individual researchers or from major research programmes. Some of the blog posts are original source and are written by researchers and experts connected to the two research programmes jointly funded by ESRC and FCDO: the Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research and the Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Research Programme. Other blog posts are imported from related websites and programmes. 

The views expressed in these blogs reflect the opinions of each individual and may not represent the Institute of Development Studies, the University of Cambridge, ESRC or FCDO.


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