Review: The Worst Place in the World to be Disabled

28 July 2015

Professor Nora Grossby Professor Nora Groce

As part of BBC Three’s Defying the Label season on disability airing this month, The Worst Place in the World to be Disabled? followed Sophie Morgan as she travelled to Ghana to uncover the (often horrifying) reality for many disabled people who live there.

This is a subject I have been researching for over 35 years, and I found this documentary to be an accurate depiction of the life faced by millions of persons with disabilities. It was important contribution to the field as it raises the issue of the lives lead by disabled people, especially those in developing countries — a subject which all too often remains well below the radar.

Distressing scenes

The film showed distressing scenes about how disabled people are treated. Sophie Morgan met disabled children who had been exiled from their villages for being ‘cursed’, and adults with mental health concerns and other disabilities chained up in local prayer camps. She interviewed those involved with the ritualistic murder of ‘spirit children’ who face traditional forms of euthanasia. Watching people being hit, beaten and abused is deeply disturbing, as it was for Sophie, herself a wheelchair user.

Yet despite the distress we feel in watching this report, it is important to remember such stories are not just a Ghanaian issue — nor even just an African issue.

Not only an African issue

The title, The Worst place in the World to be Disabled? — while attention grabbing — hides the fact that the stories shown will also ring true for millions of impoverished people living with disabilities in Asia and Latin America as well as throughout the rest of Africa.

But this is not to say that things are uniformly bleak.

Over the past decade, in many countries (including Ghana) some progress has been made. In over 150 countries around the world, ratification of the new UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other progressive policies and programmes have begun to guarantee equal rights and better access to resources (including education, employment and civic engagement) to children and adults with disabilities.

And in countries around the world, there are services like Leonard Cheshire Disability's regional offices and the Global Alliance, an alliance of programmes which has a presence in 54 countries.

But improving legislation often does not make a difference on the ground for people who are not aware of their rights or who cannot afford to access to them. And non-governmental organisations, no matter how large, have limited resources.

Required viewing

This BBC film should be required viewing for all of us who work on disability issues, whether within or beyond the UK. And while the title gets your attention, it should not let other countries off the hook.

We need to be aware that the conditions reported in this film are not only shocking in themselves, but also shocking because the lives that poor people with disabilities live, in many countries, continue to be a human rights violation.

And the lives of these millions of people cannot be defined only in terms of a human rights violation. We need to also be aware of the fact that the skills and abilities these people with disabilities could bring their families and communities is being needlessly squandered. The conditions shown in tonight's excellent documentary represent a lost opportunity for us all.

Professor Nora Groce is director of the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre.


I thought the documentary was insightful in that it gave people a real look into the views Ghanaians and Africans hold towards disabled people.

However, I do think it could have been approached slightly differently. The basis seemed to be 'send a white disabled person out there, she cries and gets upset and tells people their beliefs are wrong'. It isn't enough to just go there and tell people 'this is wrong'; you need to educate people into WHY their beliefs are fundamentally wrong.

I agree with that. It did feel like another one of those same old children in need appeals. However it was good that she was confrontational with those controversial leaders, it wasn't just an overview of what happens in Ghana. The ending scene where the children are learning to sew and such was interesting. Perhaps by showing that disabled children / people do have skills like this, there could be more willingness from the public to accept and appreciate the disabled.

Can someone please tell me the name of the charity at the end which teaches them a skill such as sewing ect many thanks.

The country seemed not to have developed with the thinking that disabled people are real human beings whose care should surpass normal children. The country appears to be struggling with human rights issues. The polices on disabled children in Ghana are rather full of aspirations than being strategic.

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