Jessica Cox Visits Disability-Inclusive Schools in Ethiopia

World's first armless pilot visits our Ethiopian inclusive education projects.


Jessica Cox, the world's first armless pilot (she flies with her feet), and a highly successful motivational speaker, joined Handicap International in Ethiopia to experience the charity's inclusive education projects. A film crew followed her visit for an upcoming documentary about her life, RIGHTFOOTED. She wrote this update on April 23.

You often hear of charities that go into Africa. You assume they are doing great things when they can invite people like Oprah Winfrey or Bono to their facilities. You see the pictures on TV and in magazines, but you rarely get to see the work the charities are doing and the work behind the scenes.

I heard about the wonderful things Handicap International was doing. Leading up to my trip to Ethiopia in late March, my brain was filled with statistics about children with disabilities, but it just does not compare to what I was about to witness on our trip.

I was very aware of the problems that children with disabilities face, but it was beyond my understanding how it is possible to tackle an issue of this magnitude. I learned from Handicap International that it has to start at the fundamental level of education. Opportunity has to start at the very beginning of a person's life.

It makes perfect sense. Had I not been given the opportunity to go to school, I would not have had the foundation I needed later to become a pilot, to own my own business, or to support myself financially. So many opportunities in my life would not have been possible without first being able to read and write.

I was able to witness with my own eyes the work of Handicap International. We visited cities like Harar and Dira Dawa in eastern Ethiopia, and spent time at several schools where Handicap International runs inclusive education programs. I was impressed to see the elementary schools that had disability resource centers funded by Handicap International and the United States Agency for International Aid and Development (USAID).

I didn't have access to a disability resource center until I was in college. These children have such resources right inside their schools, with materials for the students and for parents. I heard the story of one mother who rented a house closer to the school, simply to allow her son, who is visually impaired, to attend one of these schools. In fact, parents are going to great lengths just to give their children the opportunity to learn at these schools.

It really goes to show that if the opportunity is there, the parents and children will take advantage of it. After seeing the work in the schools and the impact on the parents and children, I am a firm believer in the effectiveness of the work Handicap International is doing! It is one thing to hear about what NGOs are doing in Africa and it is another to see what they are doing. I will never forget many of the things the children shared with me. The parting words from one of the students I met were very passionate. She said, "Send your children with disabilities to school!"

Editor's note, Summer 2013: This trip inspired Jessica to become an advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities. Here in the U.S., she is working to encourage the U.S. Senate to ratify the disability treaty (the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).

To join Jessica in this important work, please sign our petition and tell your Senators that the U.S. should ratify the disability treaty.