Why “We Can Do”?

Posted on 26 August 2007. Filed under: Introduction to "We Can Do" | Tags: |

[Note: this text has also just now been published as a new, permanent “Page” for this blog–see the top navigation bar, or the navigation bar at the right hand side of this page.]

After I came up with the basic concept for this blog, one of the first things I had to decide was: What to name it?

So: Why “We Can Do”?

“We” Means …

All of us combined–you, me, and the other people reading this blog–have the knowledge and skills to ensure that disabled people are not left behind when decision makers meet to figure out how to put all children in school, or end poverty, or bring water and electricity to isolated communities. Together, we have the skills and passion to create a world in which poor people with disabilities in developing countries have the power to choose: to choose independence, to choose self-determination, to choose life.

The trouble is, “We” isn’t “We” yet. Or at least, it’s not a single, unified “We.”

We have people in both large and small mainstream organizations dedicated to ending poverty in developing countries for all people. Unfortunately, many of these organizations have inadvertently left disabled people out–not because they mean to, but because they don’t know enough about how to include them. Some people in these organizations are working to change that.

We have people in disability advocacy organizations who bring both passion and first-hand knowledge to the fight for human rights. For some, that includes the right for disabled people to be free of poverty.

We have people in local, national, and international organizations who might not identify as “disabled” at all. They might simply identify as “Deaf”, and view themselves as members of a cultural or linguistic community. Or perhaps they identify as “Autistic” or some other label, and view that as simply a form of neurodiversity. What they do share is the desire to ensure that Deaf, Autistic, and other people, too have access to education, health services, and the opportunities they need to escape poverty.

We have people who work in the intersection of the dual fields of development and disability. Some work in organizations that focus on disability in the context of international development. Others work in mainstream development organizations, perhaps within a unit dedicated to disability issues.

And we have enthusiastic younger people who have not yet started their careers. Young people who care about the fate of people with disabilities in developing countries and want to learn more.

We all have something to offer each other. But disability experts and development experts often don’t know how to find each other. People with one disability might have limited contact with people with a different disability–even though some of the solutions to their shared challenges may be the same. Young people would love to talk to anyone who is willing to give them the time–but they might not know where to find them.

The word “We” in “We Can Do” means: it is time for all of us to share our ideas and resources and become one, stronger, more unified “We.”

“We” means that anyone and everyone who cares about removing barriers that make it harder for disabled people in developing countries to lift themselves out of poverty is welcome to this blog.

“Can” means …

Have you ever had the experience of being underestimated, ignored, or overlooked?

Have people ever “forgotten” to invite you to a meeting that affects your entire neighborhood, community, or village because they were sure you “wouldn’t be interested”? Or because they thought it would be too “difficult” to include you?

Have people ever not bothered to ask you for YOUR ideas how to solve problems that affect your entire neighborhood, community, or village because they assumed you would have little or nothing to suggest? Or because they assume that people who RECEIVE help–like you–are never able to GIVE help in return?

Have you ever had a decision made ABOUT you WITHOUT you because people thought you weren’t “competent” enough to make your own choices about your own life?

Have you ever had people try to solve your problems for you without even asking what you believe are your most urgent needs? Or without allowing you to come up with ideas for solutions yourself? Or without allowing you to simply ask for the specific resources, skills training, funding, and other assistance you need to solve your own problems yourself?

If you have a disability, or if you are poor, or if you are from a developing country, then most, if not all, of the above experiences will likely seem very familiar to you.

Many non-disabled people, or middle-income and rich people, and people from high-income countries want to “help.” And most have the very best intentions. But even good people with good intentions sometimes forget that poor disabled people in developing countries are their own most important allies for change. Sometimes good people with good intentions forget to work WITH people who are disabled, or poor, or from developing countries–not FOR them.

The word “CAN” in the name of this blog is a reminder not to underestimate what people with disabilities can do. Or what poor people can do. Or what people from developing countries can do. Frequently, the real barrier isn’t the disability, and sometimes not even the poverty or the geography. The real barrier is that poor disabled people are denied access to the things they need to solve their own problems. Most of the time, when we say, “They can’t do it,” what we really mean is, “We haven’t yet asked them what they need to turn ‘can’t’ into ‘can.'”

They may need support and tools and resources. They may need skills training and expert advice. And, yes, they nearly always need funding. (Don’t we all?) But if you ask poor disabled people from developing countries, “Can you do it?” the answer you receive often will be, “Yes, we can.”

“DO” means …

What does the word “Do” mean in the name “We Can Do”?

That depends partly on YOU, and the other people reading this blog.

I expect this blog will include many kinds of posts. Some will simply announce an upcoming conference, training opportunity, or other event. Others will deal with concepts and ideas that might be useful for people new to disability or development to think about. Or, I might arrange “pro” and “con” essays (and rebuttals) among experts who hold opposing opinions on issues important to disabled people in developing countries.

But I don’t want this blog to be all in the abstract. If you’re reading this blog, that’s because you care about real people who have real problems who need real solutions–NOW. You care about people who don’t have time to sit around and wait while “experts” talk at each other through the Internet. You work with people who are starving–for food, for water, for shelter, for health services, for education, for vocational training, for jobs, for microfinance services, and for a path out of poverty. And because of that, you want to DO–not just talk.

Talking about ideas and concepts and sharing information still have their place. Bringing together people who have very different personal and professional backgrounds also has a place. And I hope to do both of these things here. But I would also very much like to include purely pragmatic materials in this blog. In other words, resources that can be put to immediate use by people out in the field so they can start making a tangible difference in the lives of real people. Resources that can be used by people who DO, not by people who talk.

And for that, I am counting on YOU.

Do you have resources or materials that could be helpful to people who are working hard to make a difference in the lives of poor people with disabilities in developing countries? Perhaps you have a check list that can be used by educators in poor, rural areas to make their schools a little more accessible to disabled students without spending money or consuming time that they just don’t have. Or maybe you have been running a successful project that you think could be replicated elsewhere. And you’re willing to write up a case study that would help people figure out how to emulate your efforts. Or maybe you have done exactly the opposite: you have allowed a failed project to collapse because you realized that it just wasn’t accomplishing what it was supposed to do. And you think you know where you went wrong. You, too, could write up a case study that could help other people avoid repeating the mistakes you have already made.

If you have a pragmatic resource to share with people who DO, please send it my way. I’d love to post it right here at this blog.

You can reach me by email at ashettle & patriot.net but replace the &ampersand with the @ at sign. And of course type my email address as all one word. (I’m presenting my email address in this way to help protect it from spam harvesters.) Or, if you have trouble reaching me by email (for example, if my spam filter mistakes your email for spam), post a comment at this blog and I’ll get in touch with you.

Please be patient. I will try to respond to emails promptly. But please understand that I work on this blog as a labor of love in my free time, which is often limited. Please DO send follow-up emails (or comments) to help me remember to respond.

I’m working on a set of guidelines for “Guest Bloggers” (which you would be, if you submit something that I post!). It’s not ready yet. But don’t wait for me to finish it before offering your help or submitting something for me to publish.


For more information on the “We Can Do” blog, also see the About the “We Can Do” Blog” page.


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