Though I can’t see with my eyes, I see you with my heart. So be my eyes in this world... I’m not a burden I promise, I just want to be your friend. Mugisha, who is visually impaired, cited this in his poem ‘I see you with my heart’, which he read at the International Day of Persons with Disabilities celebrations at the University of Kigali, Rwamagana Campus in Rwanda's eastern province. It was themed, “Transformative Solutions for Inclusive Development: The role of innovations in fuelling an accessible and equitable world.” The day, which is usually observed on December 3, was celebrated on December 7 in Rwanda, at an event organised by JURU Initiative, a student-led organisation that works to address challenges faced by young people with disabilities in Rwanda. In partnership with UNICEF, as chair of the UN Diversity and Inclusion Facilitation Taskforce, they led a UN-organised dialogue, with and for children with disabilities, to facilitate discussion around the barriers they face in accessing inclusive services. From songs, poems, and dances, the event also included performances by youth with disabilities to showcase their talents. “And to send a clear message, that persons with disability can be productive members of the community if the right policies are put in place and are given the necessary support and space,” said Anisie Byukusenge, the visually impaired emcee of the event said. The fight not over According to Olivia Mbabazi, Executive Director of the National Council of Persons with Disability, the fight to advocate for inclusivity is not yet over. She highlighted barriers to accessing body-parts-replacement facilities, which are not covered by most insurance policies, as well as language barriers that people who use sign language face when seeking basic public services. Other stated challenges include stigma, lack of awareness, poverty, and limited access to basic social services and parental care. Latest data from the UNICEF Report on Disability 2021, titled 'Seen, Counted, Included: Using data to shed light on the well-being of children with disabilities,' show that children with disabilities are: 34% more likely to be stunted, 25% less likely to receive early stimulation and responsive care, 25% less likely to attend early childhood education, 42% less likely to have foundational reading and numeracy skills, and 49% more likely to have never attended school at all. 32% are also more likely to experience severe corporal punishment, 41% more likely to feel discriminated against, and 51% more likely to have never attended school at all. Their ability overrides their disability “The government is well aware of the challenges that continue to impede people with disabilities, such as a lack of medical insurance coverage. And we’re looking for solutions as soon as possible,” assured Assoumpta Ingabire, Minister of State in charge of Social Affairs at Local Government. However, for true inclusion to happen, the entire Rwandan community must collectively contribute, noted Radjab Mbonyumuvunyi, mayor of Rwamagana District. “Local authorities are required to report and collaborate at all levels to solve problems that the public, including people with disabilities, may have. But we also need everyone’s help to report issues, raise awareness, and include everyone so that no one is left out,” he explained. According to Julianna Lindsay, UNICEF Representative in Rwanda, ignoring people with disabilities in the pursuit of development means missing out on all the ways they can contribute significantly. “The talents displayed here demonstrate that their ability overrides their disability. All they need from us is a bit of support and space to meet their needs holistically, and we’ve been helping and will continue to,” she said.