SPOTLIGHT My blindness WAS A “I 46

was born in a rural part of Ethiopia, where education was not the norm for girls, let alone girls with a disability. Early marriage was practiced. So a

family with a girl child would be thinking mostly about the son-in-law that the girl would bring them.

I became blind at the age of five, so I was no longer expected to bring a son-in-law to my family. My mom made a decision to remove me from the community, which considered me useless and a burden. She paid a high price to get me into a special school, 900 km away. That was a breakthrough in my life. It made me the first and only girl in my community to receive an education. So I never considered blindness as a disability, because blindness was my path to education. It is how I have got to where I am today. I attended special school only until grade six, because it was expensive. Since there was no education in my home village, I was urged to stay in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, and join integrated education. It was a challenge, because I had to fit into the system. In the classroom, there were around 76 students, and I was the only

blind girl. There were no Braille books and all the teachers wrote on a blackboard. Nobody worried about reading to me. The sports fields were not inclusive, the library was not inclusive. All I could think about was: when will all this change? This is what has inspired me to support and initiate change. If I don’t change it, then who will? During my legal studies at university, there

were no Braille books available that kept pace with Ethiopia’s legal reforms. Instead, I had to write all the legal codes and commentaries and manually convert them into Braille. This was not easy as it took me away from my studies and research.

When I finished university – I qualified as a

lawyer – I co-founded the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development, a prominent center that provides advice and expertise about how to ensure development programs are inclusive to disability. The legal profession has long been considered one primarily for males. Breaking the myth and becoming one of the first female blind lawyers was demanding. But thanks to all of these challenges, I can achieve my goals – in many aspects of my life – far more effectively. Today, I focus on human rights, including the rights of children and women with disabilities.


Yetnebersh Nigussie is Director of Advocacy and Human Rights with Light for the World International. An Ethiopian lawyer, she leads the promotion of the global disability and development organization’s inclusive development program. Nigussie’s relationship with Light for the World dates back to 2011, when she became Goodwill Ambassador in Ethiopia. In 2016, she joined the organization full-time to widen her scope of influence from the national to international level. She talks with the OFID Quarterly’s Steve Hughes about growing up in rural Ethiopia, considering her own blindness a blessing and her dream of inclusive development for all…

I am also involved with the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the first-ever World Report on Disability ( report/2011/en/) produced by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, disability disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, such as women. Women with disabilities experience the combined disadvantages associated with gender as well as disability. While many women have a disability, we hardly ever see them in leadership. We don’t have a global organization for women with disabilities, and most disability organizations are dominated by men with disabilities, despite there being more women with disabilities than men. In terms of disability and development,

however, I have to say we’re in a promising place. We no longer have to convince people of the need to include those with disabilities. There are several explicit references to disabilities in the SDGs, including the ‘leave no one behind’ overarching principle. Organizations such as Light for the World are needed to show the world how it should be done. How do we include children with disabilities in regular education programs? How do we include women with

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