greg silvesterThe Department of International Development (DFID) Committee Inquiry into Disability and Development has been urged to help reduce stigma against people with learning disabilities in Africa after hearing evidence from a former Special Olympics athlete.

Greg Silvester (pictured) highlighted to the DFID the issues facing people in Africa with 90% of children with intellectual disabilities unable to go to school and being denied other vital services.

The Committee, chaired by newly-appointed deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Malcolm Bruce MP, was formed in late 2013 to reassert DFID’s commitment to people with disabilities in developing countries and assess the adequacy of DFID’s current policy commitments on disability and development.

Counting on his own experience of living with Down’s syndrome and representing his country in several World Games, Silvester, who is now a qualified mainstream gymnastics coach, told Committee members how critical Special Olympics programmes are "empowering people with intellectual disabilities and helping them reach their great potential.

"It has been great to be able to share my story with the Committee members,” he added. “There is a stigma around intellectual disabilities especially in places like Africa and it has a real impact on the way that people live. I want to make sure that people with intellectual disabilities are remembered when our government is making decisions about aid in Africa.”

In many cultures throughout Africa, stereotypes, entrenched stigma and misunderstanding about intellectual disabilities exists and the effects can be devastating. For instance, many people with disabilities experience severe social isolation and suffer from neglect, abuse and violence.

Inclusive development is critical for Africa as part of a post-2015 Millennium Development Goals framework, and the UK continues to serve as one of the most important development partners for African nations.

As part of a renewed disability and development approach – and one that focuses on rehabilitation and service provision – DFID stands to make one of the largest and most sustained impact of any foreign aid towards the 200 million people worldwide who have an intellectual disability.