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PAPER: Independent Living Movement in Developing Countries by Shoji Nakanishi

Posted on 30 December 2007. Filed under: Academic Papers and Research, Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR), Cross-Disability, East Asia Pacific Region, Guest Blogger, Latin America & Caribbean | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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Independent Living Movement in Developing Countries

by Shoji Nakanishi
Disabled People International (DPI) Japan

It has been many years since experts of rehabilitation recommended training and educations to people with disabilities to enable them to get jobs as non disabled people do. The experts believe that independence means only economical independence. As a result, parents think it impossible for their disabled children to live independently in their communities. Parents tend to put these children into a residential institution for them to live permanently. Following these ideas, the government is promoting to build more institutions and to train more experts for people with disabilities.

The Independent living movement by severely disabled people in America denied institutions that lead to isolation and discrimination. In 1972 The First IL center was established in Berkeley, the second one in Houston, in 1974 the third in Boston. A lot of IL centers have come into the world in a very short time. All disabled people in the whole country were united, and then won the amendment of rehabilitation law in 1978. As a result, IL centers got great opportunities to get subsidies from the federal government. “Independent Living: From Social Movement to Analytic Paradigm”, An academic paper written by Gerben DeJong, published in 1978, drastically changed the way of thinking toward disabilities, from rehabilitation to independent living. With this paper, the philosophy of independent living was accepted as a social movement on a academic basis. These two events rapidly promoted the establishment of IL centers nationwide.

Independent Living Movement In Developed countries

The IL movement, which gave dreams and wishes to disabled persons, has grown to service provision systems by disabled peoples themselves and advocacy activities by IL centers in these 30 years in all developed countries, except the Oceania region.

Ed Roberts, the founder of the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley and other activists with disabilities said, “People with disabilities should live in communities.” “People with disabilities are neither patients to be cared for, children to be protected, nor Gods to be worshipped.” “People with disabilities themselves can identify their necessary assistance and manage it.” “People with disabilities are the victims of social prejudice rather than victims of disabilities.” This philosophy was soon accepted in many parts of the world. On the grounds of this philosophy, IL centers are providing these services below:

  1. Dispatch of Personal Assistants.
    • There are two ways of dispatching personal assistants; one is the way of direct dispatching like in Japan, another in the way of introducing through IL centers like in the U.S.
  2. Peer Counselling
    • Counselling, talking or sessions among peers who have the same or similar experiences of disabilities.
  3. Independent Living Skill Training
  4. Advocacy Activities
  5. Providing information
    • Housing and social welfare referral are included.

Now the organizations of IL centers are established in each country and region, such as NCIL in America, CAILC in Canada, JIL in Japan, and ENIL in Europe. In 1999 The first summit of World independent Living was held in Washington D.C, U.S.A . Since then, three summits have taken place in different areas where a great number of disabled leaders, including leaders from developing countries became involved.

Conditions concerning Independent Living in developing countries

The Idea of independent living, which insists on self-decision and self-management, also fascinated people with disabilities in developing countries. But because of lack of social resources, it is thought to be difficult in developing countries to achieve environments where there are enough services and accessibilities. Moreover, quite a few people thought by mistake that independence means only economical independence, so that they believed that nobody can live an independent life except for a lightly disabled person. It is nearly impossible for people with disabilities to get jobs in Asia, where only 5 or 10 percent of disabled children can have school education.

As a result, almost all developing countries tried to get disabled people to be independent through CBR (Community based rehabilitation) produced by experts, in the same period of the IL movement. Services based on institutions could be only beneficial for disabled people living in urban areas. The main target of CBR is for disabled people who live in rural areas, occupying 7 or8 percent of the total population. Non-disabled people in their communities were voluntaries trained as CBR workers, and then they did some simple rehabilitation work and help the daily lives for disabled people. Indeed, the quality of life for disabled persons might get improved to some extent, through basic physical training, walking training, sign language education, inclusion by CBR workers, and financial aids of private companies like Micro Credit. But CBR did not necessarily bring independent living for disabled persons though disabled persons had joined as official members since the beginning of providing services. That is because CBR was firstly positioned as extentions of institutions, so that disabled persons were kept under control or management of experts without disabilities.

It is often the case that disabled people who have loved the idea of IL also name their activities IL in some developing countries. For example, a certain disability organization In Mexico established a new organization named “International Organization of Independent Living for People With Disabilities”, arranging the curriculum for disabled people which included lessons about fitness, physiology, swimming, manipulation of wheelchair, driving of remodeled cars, sexuality and family life, urology, training of daily living activities etc. In Thailand, one of the staff with disabilities working at Sirindorn National Medical Rehabilitation Center suggested the Independent Living Unit, providing much the same program as Mexico’s organization did. Even though these trials may not always share the same meaning of original independent living, it indicates that there are also many disabled people having a try at independent living by themselves, in developing countries.

Scheme for spreading IL in developing countries

In 1980, American disabled people who had got involved in the IL movement began to act in other countries to spread the philosophy abroad. Nowadays, Japan is taking charge of propagation of IL in the Asian region, while in America, IL centers or other organizations like Mobility International are inviting other countries’ disabled leaders to their training seminars.

One of 4 activities is often adopted as a way of spreading the IL philosophy in developing countries; first is promoting theoretical framework of IL, second, advocacy, third, participation of severely disabled persons in self-help organizations, and the last, showing a role model as an example of IL.

1. Activity to promote the theoretical framework of IL
  Firstly it is necessary to correct the mistake about IL that independence means doing everything alone without any help. In spite of someone’s help, it is regarded as IL, if only self-decision and self-management can be done. This idea welcomes people with disabilities as “very good news”. But, in most cases, this acceptance does not immediately bring grassroot activities. For instance, a lot of disabled people were excited to meet American activists who came to Japan for an IL promotion tour in 1982, but the IL movement in Japan did not start untill the first IL center was established in 1986. It is very important to follow up on their experiences.

The first IL seminar in Asia was held in Bacolod, the Philippines in 1994, mainly promoted by STIL, Sweden and the Human Care Association, Japan. Three Asian persons with quadriplegia joined this seminar. After the seminar, Motab from Bangladesh tried to expand his job at the Center for the Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed to the activity of independent living but in vain because of his death 3 years ago. Male participants from the Philippines, all of whom had already married, got quite interested in the IL movement, but they found it difficult to make a movement in their own country, because they had to prepare for their family before they join the movement. On the other hand, Topong from Thailand, on the grounds of the ideals of the IL movement, held a demonstration for better access of Sky Train, and educated other organizations in local areas. The Human Care Association supported his activities, and then offered him to come to Japan for training

Famous disabled activists participated in the 1999’s seminar in Malaysia held by the Asia Disability Institute. One of them was Christine Lee, who had staged a demonstration for access of the mono railway at the risk of being arrested. All participants were wildly enthusiastic on the last day of the seminar, and promised each other to promote the IL movement more actively from now on. But actually, few of them were able to increase their activities in the IL movement. There may be two reasons. One is most of the participants have their own jobs and have no time for the IL movement; the other is that severely disabled persons who really need IL have not joined the movement yet.

Promoting activities are very essential to support and spread the IL movement

2. Advocacy
   The IL movement in Brazil was based on advocacy. Rosangela Berman Bieler, a Brazilian woman with quadriplegic who happened to visit an IL center in America was so impressed with its philosophy that she joined the IL movement. In 1988 CVIRJ, the first IL center in Brazil, was establish by her in Rio de Janeiro. CVIRJ began to start a movement for easy access to the city, such as getting rid of steps on side walks. The problem of accessibility is very meanful not only because it is a problem that applies to all kinds of disabled people, but also because it will bring visible outcomes as advocacy. The IL center in Brazil made the movement more powerful by keeping contact with IL centers in America. Now in Brazil, there are 25 IL centers established, and the national union of IL centers has been united.

In South Korea, the IL movement has made rapid progress in a short time, because the Korean people getting involved with the IL movement have already created activities of advocacy on a large scale. Chon Manfu, a severely disabled person who applied for the role model of IL in 2000, was empowered through the experiences of joining big demonstration in 2001 and a long-term hunger strike in May 2002, triggered by the death of a wheelchair user at a subway station. These events were arranged by Pack Gyoung Souk, the principal of a night school for the disabled people. A lot of his students, who have studied IL, are taking part in the IL movement, which is one of the reasons why the Korean IL movement has such power. Now, the main issue in Korea is to train disabled people as peer counselors. The physical and mental conditions for developing IL in Korea are being prepared; 3 IL centers in Japan, Human Care Association, CIL Tachikawa, and HANDS Setagaya, collaborated with each other to establish a new project team that dispatches peer counselors to Korea several times a year and provides long-term training in Japan for Korean disabled leaders. As a result, some of them have reached the high standard of peer counselors that JIL is setting. There are 5 IL centers in Korea.

3. Participation of severely disabled persons in self-help groups

In Thailand, many disabled people used to sell lottery as a job, which made enough money to prepare for their own family. But because of this job, the disability movement did not grow among people with disabilities in Thailand. Under these circumstances, Topong, as I said before, thought it was only the IL movement that would change the environment of disabled people in Thailand. He tried to promote the IL movement in collaboration with 3 organizations of disabled people, Nontabri,Chonbri,Nakonpatom, three of which were very conscious about the rights of people with disabilities. To support his activities, the Human Care Association invited him to come to Japan for an IL seminar.

Each of these three organizations were democratic self-help groups, which provided home visiting services for disabled persons. Leaders of these organizations were willing to accept the idea of IL. The first step of a three year project is to open a seminar by Japanese disabled leaders, ten participants from three organizations were all studying hard, but none of them were severely disabled. So, the project team gave a task for them that they should find at least five severely disabled persons and take them outside their homes until the next years’ seminar was held.

After this, three organizations began to train students to be a voluntary staff, and ask them to take severely disabled persons outside. Some of disabled persons went outside for the first time in their lives; some of them were strogly opposed by their families, so that they were forced to refuse staff visits; some of them gave up to go outside because of their bad health; some of them had lifters fixed in their bathroom by staff who saw families lift the disabled person with great difficulty. As a result, many of them attended the peer counselling workshop held in 2002 empowered physically and mentally. As they are finished learning skills of managing an IL center in 2003-2004 year, the real activities are ready to start.

4. Showing role model of IL

Young disabled persons who belongs to the MileStone Society in Pakistan came to Japan for the Duskin Training Program, including the 9 month IL seminar at several IL centers, such as Human Care Association and Main Stream Association. It is almost a year since they have gone back to Pakistan and begun to start the IL movement. They looked around Lahore to discover severely disabled persons confined in their homes, and persuade them to attend training workshops held at an office. They asked some promising participants to experience IL in a room in the corner of the office.

In the end, a young girl with muscular dystrophy made a decision to live independently. She learned various IL skills such as how to take proper care from others and how to tell personal assistants what she wanted her PA to do by actually living in a special room arranged in a corner of her house. In the day time, now she works as a member of the Life IL Center the renamed office, riding in a power wheel chair taken from Japan. It is very meaningful that she began to live independently for the first time in Pakistan, moreover in such an Islamic society, where women are likely to be conservative. After her independence, two male disabled persons, who have been encouraged by her, want and even practice now to live independently.

Spreading the correct philosophy of IL

It is true that more and more people have heard about IL, and especially in developing countries, where their expectation toward IL is getting bigger and bigger. Nevertheless, most of them have given up their dreams, making excuses like these: “We have no resources to use in our country.” “Prejudices against disabled people are still deeply rooted.” “Government does not still prepare sufficient welfare systems.”

  One of the strategies to achieve the targets of the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action is “Strengthened community-based approaches for the prevention of causes of disability, rehabilitation and empowerment of persons with disabilities.” It says that “Many developing countries in the region are now beginning to augment and replace traditional institutional and centralized rehabilitation programmes and projects with approaches better suited to their social and economic environments of poverty, high unemployment and limited resources for social services. Community-based rehabilitation programmes form the hub of such strategies. The community-based approach is particularly appropriate for the prevention of causes of disability, early identification and intervention of children with disabilities, reaching out to persons with disabilities in rural areas, raising awareness and advocacy for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all activities in the community, including social, cultural and religious activities. Education, training and employment needs could also be met by this approach. It is essential that persons with disabilities exercise choice and control over initiatives for community-based rehabilitation..” It even recommends in Strategy 10 that “Governments, in collaboration with organizations of persons with disabilities and civil society organizations, should immediately develop national policies, if that has not yet been done, to promote community-based approaches for the prevention of causes of disability, for rehabilitation and for the empowerment of persons with disabilities. Community based rehabilitation (CBR) perspectives should reflect a human rights approach and be modeled on the independent living concept, which includes peer counselling.”

Many people tend to think it nearly impossible to introduce IL to their countries. Naturally the idea of IL can apply to all disabled people in all countries by all ages. The problem is whether you can have the courage of doing what you have not done yet, and whether you have many peers and friends who will support your activity. Pioneers have a lot of difficulties, but have a great impact on other people. Nowadays a variety of IL programs and seminars are prepared for such people. People in developed countries including US are ready to assist you to be a leader of IL movement. We are showing the achievements and good news of IL at all times.

Thank you to author Shoji Nakanishi for granting permission to publish this article at We Can Do. Shoji Nakanishi is currently Chairperson of DPI Asia Pacific and Treasurer DPI World Council. He founded the Japan Council on Independent Living Centers.

I first learned about this paper when Ghulam Nabi Nazimani passed it along.

Have you written an article that you think would be appropriate for publication at We Can Do? Please review the We Can Do Wish List for Written Materials and Resources and contact me. You may either leave a comment somewhere at this blog or sent me an email to ashettle [at]

To find more academic papers or research related to people with disabilities in developing countries, click on Academic Papers and Research under “Categories” in the right-hand navigation bar.

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We Can Do Retrospective: The First 100 Posts (and Then Some)

Posted on 22 December 2007. Filed under: Academic Papers and Research, Announcements, Arts, autism, Blind, Call for Papers, Case Studies, Children, Cognitive Impairments, Commonwealth Nations, Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR), Cross-Disability, Deaf, Democratic Participation, Disability Studies, Disaster Planning & Mitigation, East Asia and Central Asia, East Asia Pacific Region, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Education, Education and Training Opportunities, Employment, Events and Conferences, Families, Fellowships & Scholarships, Funding, Guest Blogger, Health, HIV/AIDS, Housing, Human Rights, Immigration, Inclusion, Interpreting, Introduction to "We Can Do", Jobs & Internships, Latin America & Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa, Mobility Impariments, Multiple Disabilities, News, Opinion, Opportunities, Policy & Legislation, Poverty, Psychiatric Disabilities, Rehabilitation, Remittances, Reports, Resources, South Asian Region, Sub-Saharan Africa Region, technology, Violence, Volunteer Opportunities, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Skip introduction, go straight to the Table of Contents

If you’re new to We Can Do, what interesting information, news, or resources might you have overlooked from the past few months? Although some older items may no longer be interesting, others may still be relevant and helpful a year or three from now. This post can help guide you through the first 100-plus posts at this blog. You can click from the table of contents below to any section of this page that interests you–and then another click on “table of contents” can take you back to the contents, or “top of this page” takes you back to this introduction.

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Table of Contents

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About We Can Do

To learn more about the purpose of We Can Do, see About We Can Do. For more on its guiding philosophy, go to Why We Can Do.

Thinking about submitting your own written materials, job posts, conference announcements, or resources to We Can Do? Check the Wish list for written materials and resources.

Want to receive an alert in email when a new post goes up at We Can Do? You can Subscribe to We Can Do for free.

I changed the organization and appearance of We Can Do in early October to its present format.

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The Five Most Popular We Can Do posts

The five listed here are the ones that have attracted the most “page views” since We Can Do began in late July. You may notice that not all of these are featured in the 10 “most popular posts” listed in the right-hand navigation bar. That’s because the navigation bar only lists posts that have received a lot of traffic very recently (I think within the past few days; its done automatically by wordpress so I’m not sure how it works). But here I’m listing the five that have the highest TOTAL page views.

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The Five Most Under-Rated We Can Do posts

Are these posts really under-rated? You’ll have to read them and decide for yourself. But in choosing these five, I used two criteria: 1. These are posts that have received fewer than 100 visitors–sometimes far fewer. 2. These are posts that I think could be helpful or interesting to readers and maybe deserve more attention than they have gotten. These are in no particular order:

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Finding Practical Resources and Case Studies or Helpful Organizations

Finding organizations; Resources for inclusive development; Human rights resources; Case studies; Other helpful resources

Finding organizations
Mainstream international development agencies sometimes say that they don’t know how to find people with disabilities, or their representative organizations, in the developing countries where they work. Reviewing the July post entitled Finding Local Disability Organizations may help point you in the right direction. Also see Disability Organizations in Afghanistan, Asia, Kenya, Uganda.

Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs) sometimes aren’t sure where to find mainstream development organizations and resources that might be willing to collaborate with them.

There is an international network of organizations for families of people with Rubinstein Taybi Syndrome.

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Resources for Inclusive Development
Both disability advocates and mainstream development organizations want to ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind when countries and organizations fight poverty or improve public health, education, water, and other services. But it can be a challenge to figure out how to make projects and government policies more inclusive. The following resources can help:

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Resources on the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
By now, you may be aware that a global movement is taking place to ratify the international disability rights treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Many relevant resources are now being produced in relation to the CRPD, some of which have been posted or featured here at We Can Do:

  • Read the CRPD “translated” into plain English.
  • UNICEF has developed a child-friendly version of the CRPD to help children understand disability rights
  • Disabled People International offers two toolkits on ratifying and implementing the CRPD for disability advocates who want to help ensure that all disabled people have their human rights recognized.
  • A handbook on disability rights targeted at parliamentarians can help parliamentarians, people who work in close contact with government agencies, and disability advocates in general, better understand the CRPD.
  • The United Nations’ new web site, UN Enable, is one of the best, and most official, places to find information on the CRPD.
  • Handicap International has produced its own Teaching Kit on the CRPD.
  • The International Disability Equality Agency (IDEA) has issued Equalize It! A Manifesto for Disability Equality in Development Cooperation that expresses their position on how to ensure disability equality in the international development field.
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    Case Studies
    Reviewing case studies of projects implemented elsewhere can be a valuable source of ideas that could help you figure out how to run or implement your own projects. I would love to post many more best-practice and failed-practice case studies than I have available right now. If you think you have something worth sharing, please check my Wish List of Written Materials and Resource and contact me at ashettle [at]

    But for now, here are two case studies:

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    Other Helpful Resources

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    Finding Useful Sources of Information and Research

    Finding academic research, papers, resources, or statistics
    Looking for academic research and academic papers; resources that can be used by people working in the field; or sources of statistics? Some of the following posts may be helpful:

    Information on people with disabilities
    Interested in learning about the living conditions of people with disabilities in specific nations, or in specific thematic areas? Some of the following may be of interest:

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    Funding Sources

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    Academic Papers

    We Can Do has published, or re-published, academic papers, or linked to same, on a range of subjects, including:

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    September 2007; October 2007; November 2007; Early December 2007

    September 2007
    At one point in September, the international disability community prematurely thought we might be On the Verge of Making History by ratifying the disability rights community.

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    October 2007

    Top of News; Table of Contents; Top of this page

    November 2007

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    Early December 2007

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    Opinion Pieces

    So far, the opinion pieces here are all by me. But I would like for We Can Do to be host to an active exchange of ideas and differing perspectives. If you have a strong opinion about something, please consider submitting it. Yes, that includes opinions that disagree with mine! Consult the Wish list for written materials and resources for ideas of the kinds of topics I’m trying to cover at We Can Do.

    Meanwhile, here are a few of my own opinion pieces:

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    Call for Papers (for Conferences, Journals, Other)

    You might be just now starting your academic career as an undergraduate or graduate student. Or perhaps you have been doing quantitative or qualitative research, or writing policy analysis, or case studies, or social analysis, for years. Either way, if you’re looking for opportunities to present, publish, or otherwise disseminate your papers or run a workshop, then check out these upcoming or ongoing opportunities:

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    International Conferences and Events

    Looking for a conference to attend? Here are a few upcoming events:
    January 2008; February 2008; March 2008; April 2008; May 2008; August 2008; September 2008; November 2008

    January 2008
    The South Asian Conference on Autism is being held in New Delhi, India in January 2008.

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    February 2008

  • The Disabilities Initiatives in Development Seminar, also in Bangladesh also in February 2008.
  • One for all: Persons with Disabilities Initiative in Development, again in Bangladesh in February 2008.
  • The International Centre for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, UK is holding a conference on sign language research in the UK in February 2008.
  • A conference on the deaf community, sign languages, social issues, civil rights, and creativity will be held on the campus of Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, USA.
  • The Techshare India 2008 Conference on accessibility will be held in New Delhi, India, in February 2008.
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    March 2008
    The 8th annual meeting of the Gulf Disability Society will meet in United Arab Emirates in March 2008.

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    April 2008

    Top of International Conferences and Events; Table of Contents; Top of this page

    May 2008

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    August 2008

    Top of International Conferences and Events; Table of Contents; Top of this page

    September 2008

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    November 2008
    The Association on Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)’s International Forum on Women’s Rights and Development will be held in Cape Town, South Africa in November 2008. A call for proposals is open until January 28, 2008.

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    Jobs, Internships, Volunteer Opportunities

    We Can Do will probably never be a comprehensive job-board. Serious job, internship, or volunteer placement hunters will want to explore other means of finding opportunities. For example, jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities in the international field generally, or in the disability field generally, can sometimes be found at But I do occasionally happen to come across a job announcement. Here are a few that may still be open to applications:

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    Education and Training Opportunities

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    Missed Opportunities

    Missed call for papers; Missed training opportunities; Missed job, internship, and volunteer opportunities; Missed events and conferences

    Some of the material I post at We Can Do is time-sensitive material. That means the conferences announced here have come and gone; job posts have been filled; and deadlines are over. So, if it’s too late for you to do anything about any of the following announcements, then why bother listing them? First, some conference organizers issue compilations of papers and presentations or other interesting materials after their event is over. If a topic interests you, it may be worth communicating with event organizers to see if any follow-up publications are available. Second, organizations that offer one conference, job opportunity, call for papers, etc., may offer something similar in the future. Many conferences, for example, meet every one, two, three, or four years. Monitoring, joining, or communicating with organizations of interest to you could help ensure that you learn about the next opportunity in time to plan for it.

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    Missed Call for Papers
    The German Journal for Disability and Development called for papers on art and disabilities to be submitted by the end of November 2007.

    Also browse through the listing of upcoming conferences and missed conferences.

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    Missed Training Opportunities

    In October 2007, the International Labour Organisation had a training course for professionals from developing countries.

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    Missed Jobs, Internships, and Volunteer Opportunities
    Remember that it is too late to apply for these specific opportunities. These are listed here in case you want to check out the sponsoring organizations for future opportunities like these:

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    Missed Event and Conference Opportunities

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    What’s Next for We Can Do?

    I am not yet satisfied with We Can Do. I still see many gaps that I want to repair. I want to find, and post, more materials of a pragmatic nature. By which I mean, material that people in the field can put to immediate use in improving the lives of disabled people in developing countries. If you think you can help me locate helpful materials, please review my Wish list for written materials and resources and contact me.

    I also want to reach more development professionals at mainstream development organizations and more employees and volunteers at international disability organizations. And I want to reach more small DPOs and individual advocates in more developing countries. The knowledge shared at We Can Do cannot help until it is brought to people with disabilities living in poverty in developing countries. That “final mile” can only be bridged by readers like YOU.

    If you want to help, I hope you will consider telling your colleagues and contacts about We Can Do. If you run a web site or a blog, please consider linking to We Can Do at If you have the skills, the time, and the commitment to launch a We Can Do mirror site translation into some other language, please talk to me (leave a comment or email me at ashettle [at] And please do feel free to print out the more helpful We Can Do posts to share with people you know in developing countries who do not have easy access to the Internet.

    For those of you who like numbers: We Can Do had 285 page views in July; 851 in August; 1305 in September; 2936 in October; 4862 in November; and more than 5100 in the first three weeks of December. And who is responsible for making these numbers happen? Why—you, of course! So, thank you for visiting We Can Do.

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    Equalize It! A Manifesto for Disability Equality in Development Cooperation

    Posted on 15 December 2007. Filed under: Guest Blogger, Human Rights, Inclusion, Opinion | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

    From the International Disability Equality Agency (IDEA):

    Equalise It ! A Manifesto for Disability Equality in Development Cooperation

    This manifesto has been written to identify the issues for the disability movement, clarify any confusion there may be for disability and development professionals and set out a programme for change in order to create real equality for disabled people and our democratic, representative organisations (DPOs) in the development process. The adoption of the UN Convention on the rights of People with Disabilities by a growing number of countries makes the implementation of the principles in this manifesto a matter of urgency.

    Disability, Poverty and Development Charities.

    As disabled people….
    Throughout the world we face discrimination.
    Throughout the world we are socially excluded.
    Throughout the world we cannot get equal access or any access at all to education, employment or decent health care.
    Throughout the world we are ignored in development programmes
    And so…

    Throughout the world we, disabled people, remain the poorest of the poor!

    The fact of this poverty has been used by global development organisations and charities to raise millions of dollars both from the public and from development agencies. However, only a small proportion of this money ever filters down to us or our organisations, DPOs. Even a smaller proportion ever succeeds in effecting sustained improvement in our lives.

    At the same time we often have little or no control over what is being done ‘to us’ ‘for us’ or ‘on our behalf.’ There tends, therefore, to be little agreement between what many non-disabled professionals and charities think disabled people need and what we actually want. As a consequence, development projects can leave behind little but disappointment. Because of this the big development organisations and disability charities are frequently seen by disabled people as part of the problem, not part of the solution. Nonetheless, disabled people in the South and Southern DPOs have had little choice but to continue working with them and to smile while doing it. The disability businesses, charities and generalist development organisations have access to the money and with that comes power and control.

    These organisations retain control because they are corporate organisations alive to a new funding environment which is demanding that boxes are ticked for such things as ‘human rights’, ‘inclusion’ and ‘listening to the voice of disabled people.’ They have all ticked the boxes, adopted the appropriate language and changed their public image. This is part of their corporate funding strategy. However, the reality is that their operations have not changed very much at all. They continue to be managed by non-disabled people and employ few, if any disabled people.

    This reality on the ground is that for us, especially in the South, non-disabled professionals from the North continue to come and to go. Projects come and projects go. Through this never-ending process the disability organisations and charities go from strength to strength, while our DPOs continue to live from hand to mouth.

    This manifesto sets out how to begin to overturn this situation and the unequal power relations which feed it.

    “Nothing About Us Without Us”

    “Nothing About Us Without Us” was the slogan adopted by Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) at its founding in 1981. DPI was established after Rehabilitation International (RI), then the world’s leading disability charity, refused to permit adequate representation by disabled people. This slogan has been particularly effective in capturing a key idea of our struggle for human rights – self determination is essential for achieving true equality.

    This was clearly acknowledged in the 1993 UN Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. Rule 18 says, “States should recognise the rights of persons with disabilities to represent persons with disabilities at national, regional and local levels. States should also recognise the advisory role of organisations of persons with disabilities in decision-making on disability matters”.

    “Nothing About Us Without Us” is also in line with the more general human rights approach to development cooperation. For example the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) holds that “The human rights approach to development means empowering people to take their own decisions, rather than being the passive objects of choices made on their behalf.’

    The ideas of self-determination and human rights developed and fought for by us in our international disability movement and encapsulated in “Nothing About Us Without Us” are also at the very heart of the new UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

    Disability – a Human Rights Issue

    UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises that ‘disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.’

    There are eight guiding principles that underlie the Convention and each one of its specific articles:
    1. Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of person
    2. Non-discrimination
    3. Full and effective participation and inclusion in society
    4. Respect for difference and acceptance of disabled people as part of human diversity and humanity
    5. Equality of opportunity
    6. Accessibility
    7. Equality between men and women
    8. Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.

    In particular the Convention emphasises the importance of self-representation through DPOs and commits State Parties to working “in partnership with relevant international and regional organizations and civil society, in particular organizations of persons with disabilities” (Article 32).

    The Office of the United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights

    Four core values of human rights law that are of particular importance in the context of disability.

    • the dignity of each individual, who is deemed to be of inestimable value because of his/her inherent self-worth, and not because s/he is economically or otherwise “useful”;
    • the concept of autonomy or self-determination, which is based on the presumption of a capacity for self-directed action and behaviour, and requires that the person be placed at the centre of all decisions affecting him/her;
    • the inherent equality of all regardless of difference;
    • and the ethic of solidarity, which requires society to sustain the freedom of the person with appropriate social supports.

    As participation is a legal right which we can claim, it is the duty of states and society to ensure that right. Our participation and inclusion must not only be in the systems, structures and services of society, but in the policy-making process as well.

    As can be seen, the UN Convention calls for disabled people and our organisations to be in the driving seat. However, this will not happen unless there is a fundamental change in the unequal, neo-colonial relationship which currently exists between disabled people and the large corporate charities, government agencies and international development institutions.

    It seems clear that at this phase of our struggle for equality and human rights “Nothing About Us Without Us” is no longer enough. As disabled people we and our organisations need not only to be included, we need to assume the leading role.

    Professionals On Tap, Not On Top

    Some time ago, David Werner, one of the founders of the Projimo Project in Mexico, wrote:

    “Women in most countries are now demanding their right to leadership in the institutions that represent their concerns. It is high time for disabled people everywhere to make similar demands. It is time for planners and administrators to provide the necessary opportunity, encouragement and appropriate skills training.

    “And, most urgently of all, it is time for non-disabled professionals to recognise the right of disabled persons to self control, and therefore to gracefully step to one side, into a role where they, as professionals, are no longer on top but rather on tap – as allies.

    This was an attempt to understand the real relationship between disabled people and non-disabled professionals and to alter it. Redefining the relationship is an essential step to achieving a human rights based, empowering and emancipatory approach to disability and development. Without it we will remain no more than the passive raw material for international and national NGOs.

    It doesn’t have to be this way. As with other social movements such as black power in the USA, women’s equality or the anti-imperialist struggles, as disabled people we must assume real leadership in our own liberation. We must fight to realise the promise of the UN Convention. And, those non-disabled professionals and organisations who want to help, need to move over and accept a new, more appropriate and equitable relationship. They need to be on tap, not on top. They need to become our genuine allies.

    A Check List for Allies

    To become genuine allies in the liberation of disabled people funders, development agencies, disability organisations, INGOs and other intermediaries must take steps to transform themselves and how they operate. Among other things, they need to:

    • Ensure that the need for programmes and policies are identified by disabled people and that we are not included simply to legitimise funding applications.
    • Ensure that disabled people are involved in all areas of the programme, not just as recipients or beneficiaries, and preferably through our own democratically run organisations (DPOs).
    • Ensure programmes are committed at every stage to full human rights and equality of opportunity.
    • Ensure that resources are transferred to DPOs in order to build capacity and sustainability.
    • Empower and resource disabled people to represent ourselves through our own organisations.
    • Champion disabled leadership both inside and outside your organisation.
    • Be prepared to change your internal and external policies and practices through engaging with the authentic voice of disabled people in the North and South.
    • If you are a disability organisation or charity, to reform your governance, staffing and operations structures to move towards disabled people being in the majority positions at all levels of the organisation.
    • If you are a donor or generalist development agency, ensure that your governance, staffing and advisory bodies are representative of society and you have at least 20% representation of disabled people at all levels of your organisation.

    The signatories to this manifesto are ready and willing to work with, support and assist any organisation that wishes to travel this road with disabled people. At the same time we will continue to challenge those who ignore our legitimate demands for control of our own destiny.

    Thank you to Mark Harrison at the International Disabilities Equality Agency (IDEA) for permission to publish the Equalize It! Manifesto at We Can Do.

    IDEA is looking for more organizations to sign the manifesto and join their campaign. For more details, see the IDEA web site. For questions related to this manifesto, or to ask about your organization signing it, please contact Mark Harrison directly at

    The text of the Equalize It! manifesto can also be viewed at the IDEA web site at:

    Or, you can download the Equalize It! Manifesto in PDF format at:

    People interested in learning more about the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) may also wish to follow the link to the RatifyNow web site at

    RatifyNow is a global campaign to maximize the number of countries that ratify the CRPD.

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    NEWS: Statement by Rosangela Berman Bieler – International Services Human Rights Award

    Posted on 14 December 2007. Filed under: Announcements, Guest Blogger, Human Rights, Latin America & Caribbean, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

    In late November, We Can Do shared the news that Rosangela Berman Bieler, a Brazilian journalist and disability advocate was to receive an International Services Human Rights Award on December 5, 2007. Berman Bieler was unable to make the trip to London, but a friend of hers–Catalina Devandas–received the award on her behalf. Devandas read a statement from Berman Bieler at the awards ceremony. Rosangela has graciously given permission to publish her statement here.

    Statement by Rosangela Berman Bieler – International Services Human Rights Award

    First of all, I would like to express my deep appreciation to International Services for establishing this Human Rights Award and to including Disability Rights as a relevant area. I humbly thank the IS selection panel and supporters for considering my name amongst such a distinguished group of Human Rights Champions from around the world. It is for me a huge honor to be part of the IS partnership.

    This award comes in a unique moment, when Disability rights advocates from all over the planet are working together to give visibility and to maximize the number of nations that ratify the new Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

    This twenty-first century’s first human rights treaty was adopted by the United Nations a year ago and opened for signatures on March 30, 2007. To date, 118 nations have indicated support of the treaty and interest in ratification. As of today, 10 nations have ratified (Croatia, Cuba, Gabon, Hungary, India, Spain, Bangladesh, South Africa, Jamaica, and Panama). The treaty becomes legally binding 30 days after the 20th nation ratifies it.

    According to the UN, approximately 10 percent of the world’s population has a disability. This translates into over 600 millions disabled people living around the world, being more than 400 million in developing countries. For every disabled person, there are at least three other members of the household indirectly affected by disability. The largest increase in the number of people with disabilities will happen in the age bracket of 65 years or more. And the world population is aging…

    Today Disability is understood as the result of the interaction between people with different levels of functioning and an environment that does not take these differences into account. Disability is part of each and every individual’s life cycle. Beyond the typical areas of disability (motor, hearing, visual, and mental/intellectual), persons in general face “disabling” conditions in a society that is unprepared to recognize and respond to human diversity.

    People with physical, sensory or mental limitations are often disabled not because of a diagnosable condition, but because they are denied access to education, labor markets, and public services. This exclusion leads to poverty and, in a vicious circle, poverty leads to more disability by increasing people’s vulnerability to malnutrition, disease, and unsafe living and working conditions.

    Accordingly to the World Bank, it is expected that the number of people with disabilities will increase by 120%, in the next 30 years in developing countries. The increase is of 40% in more developed countries. It is estimated that 100 million people in the world acquired a disability due to malnutrition.

    About 80-90% of disabled people in the Latin-American Region are unemployed or outside the work force. Most of those who have jobs receive little or no monetary remuneration. In my native country, Brazil, the 2000 Census shows that, of the 24.650.000 Brazilians with disability, 27% live in situation of extreme poverty and 53% are poor.

    Universal inclusion is not only a human rights issue and a principle for equity, but also an operational strategy to general a better and sustainable society for all. To improve the efficacy of social and economic development actions and to reach all manifestations of human diversity, public policies, from design to implementation, must take all human characteristics and needs into account.

    Human Rights are exercised in the mainstream society, in the daily life of each one of us. The means for this full exercise are provided by fair and equitable public policies for all. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a strong and effective instrument to orient and assist governments to implement policies and actions under an inclusive development approach.

    The UN Convention recognizes the fundamental importance of getting disabled people ourselves involved in the process of our emancipation and reinforces the concept of “Nothing About Us, Without US”, used by the disability field to claim full participation. Under this premises, together with my peers and supporters of the Disability field, I would like to call all governments to immediately ratify the CRPD and start making the ideal of an inclusive Society, into a reality.

    Thank you very much for this opportunity and let’s continue working together for a planet and a society where life is valued, diversity is celebrated and dignity is for all.

    Inter-American Institute on Disability & Inclusive Development
    Instituto Interamericano sobre Discapacidad y Desarrollo Inclusivo
    Instituto Inter-Americano sobre Deficiência & Desenvolvimento Inclusivo

    Rosangela Berman Bieler
    Executive Director
    IIDI Inter-American Office:
    New Address:
    27-37 27th Street, #1B,
    New York, NY 11102
    Tel: 1(347) 738-6472

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    MEMORANDUM, Commonwealth Disabled People’s Conference 2007

    Posted on 22 November 2007. Filed under: Announcements, Commonwealth Nations, Events and Conferences, Guest Blogger, Human Rights, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

    The Commonwealth Disabled People’s Conference met in early November in Kampala, Uganda. The following memorandum was issued at that conference.

    Dear Colleagues,

    It’s my pleasure to forward to you a memorandum of decisions made at the recently concluded Commonwealth Disabled peoples’ Conference. Attached to this memorandum is a shorter memorandum which was prepared specifically for sending to CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting).

    I hope these documents will enable those who are in a position to lobby their respective delegations to CHOGM to raise disability issues during the meeting.

    Yours Sincerely,

    James Mwandha.




    The Commonwealth Disabled Peoples’ Conference convened in Kampala, Uganda from the 4th -7th November 2007;

    NOTING with appreciation the theme of this year’s CHOGM, ‘Transforming Commonwealth Societies to achieve political, economic and human development.’

    AWARE that Persons with disabilities are among the poorest of the poor and the most socially excluded,

    RECOGNISING the diversity of Persons with Disabilities,

    EMPHASISING the importance of mainstreaming disability issues as an integral part of relevant strategies of sustainable development,

    NOTING the adoption by the 61st UN General Assembly of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,

    APPRECIATING that India and Jamaica have already ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,

    RECOGNISING the importance of International cooperation for improving the living conditions of persons with disabilities in every country particularly in developing countries,

    The Conference hereby resolves as follows:


    1. Appreciates the Government of Uganda for hosting the Commonwealth Disabled Peoples’ Conference and in particular the support given by Honourable Sayda Bbumba, Minister of, Gender, Labour and Social Development and Honourable Sulaiman Madada, Minister of State for Disability and Elderly Affairs.

    2. Thanks to the Right Honourable Rebecca Kadaga, Deputy Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament for officiating at the opening of the Conference and Honourable Okello Oryem, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in charge of International Relations for performing the closing ceremony and offering to submit the conference memorandum to the Ugandan Head of State.

    3. Commends the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the UK Government for sending a representative to the conference as an observer.

    4. Commends further the Uganda disability movement for the initiative taken to hold this first ever conference of Disabled People in the Commonwealth and the excellent arrangements and the hospitality accorded to the delegates.

    5. Appreciates the resource persons for the excellent presentations made at the Conference and at the side events.

    6. Notes with appreciation the countries that sent delegates to the conference namely: Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, United Kingdom, Zambia, and observers from Rwanda and Sudan.

    7. Recognises the participation of the President of the World Blind Union, the Secretariat of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities, the East African Federation of the Disabled, the representative of the President of the World Federation of the Deaf, representatives of Leonard Cheshire Foundation International, and the office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights.


    8. Submits a short memorandum, appearing as annexture 1 to this memorandum, to CHOGM through the Uganda Minister of State for International Relations.

    9. Circulates the short memorandum to as many disabled people and their organisations in the Commonwealth as possible and call upon them to use it to lobby their respective delegations to advocate for disability issues in CHOGM.


    10. Establishes the Commonwealth Disabled Peoples’ Forum with Disabled Peoples’ Organisations (DPOs) in the Commonwealth constituting its membership.

    11. A steering committee consisting of Honourable James Mwandha (Uganda) Chair, Mr. Mark Harrison (UK), Mr. Thomas On’golo, Secretariat of the African Decade of Disabled Persons (South Africa), a representative from Canada and a representative from India.

    12. The steering committee to draw up their terms of reference for the establishment of the forum and convene a forum meeting within a period of ten months.

    13. The steering committee to dialogue with the Commonwealth Secretariat and register the forum with the Commonwealth Foundation.


    14. Recommends that data collection at all levels should include disaggregated data concerning disability to enable Governments to plan effectively for the inclusion of disabled people.

    15. Calls upon all governments to pass laws that promote equality and inclusion of disabled people in society and do away with laws that perpetuate discrimination and exclusion.

    16. Appeals to Governments and donors to resource DPOs to publicize the convention, sensitize the general public and help to implement the Convention.


    A. Governments.

    17. Sign and ratify the Convention and enact laws to domesticate the convention and amend all laws, which negatively impact on disabled people.

    18. Translate the Convention document into the local languages and Sign Language to facilitate wider understanding of the rights of disabled people.

    19. Put in place programmes that create greater awareness in communities and within government systems relating to disability rights, and promote efforts that encourage positive attitudes towards disabled people.

    20. Mainstream disability in social, economic and political programmes and provide for representation of disabled people in the Parliaments, Local Councils and Statutory organizations.

    21. Provide access to rehabilitation, education, training, employment opportunities, cultural and sports activities, technical aids, Sign Language Interpretation Services and other assistive devices to facilitate mobility and independent daily living of disabled people.

    22. Develop special programmes to cater for the special needs of women, children and the elderly with disabilities.

    23. Strengthen DPOs and support creation of new ones, and promote representation of disabled people at local, national and international levels.

    24. Include a disability component in all Government budgets and budgetary allocations across all sectors and in all local governments and also to give visibility to disability in all government plans, programmes and activities.

    25. Build alliances with other countries, multilateral institutions and donor organizations to promote international cooperation in research, sharing information on best practices and funding for disability programmes.

    26. Disability as a cross cutting issue should be mainstreamed and prioritized in all the development planning, implementation, and monitoring processes of governments as a means of achieving the millennium development goals (MDGs).

    27. Governments should take special measures to protect persons with disabilities in all situations of conflicts, wars and catastrophes to alleviate the grave suffering caused to them.

    B. Disabled Peoples’ Organisations (DPOs)

    28. Lobby their Governments to sign and ratify the convention.

    29. Once the convention enters into force, lobby Governments and Parliament to enact laws to domesticate it.

    30. Ensure that disability issues are fully covered in the countries’ Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) where applicable.

    31. Make alliances with other Civil Society organizations and create a common platform that includes disability concerns.

    32. Advocate for budgetary allocations at national level across all sectors and at all local levels.

    33. Participate actively in the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the convention at all levels.

    34. Partner with the media for dissemination of the convention and other information relating to disability rights.


    35. Monitoring is an important aspect of the process of realizing the rights of people with disabilities.

    36. Governments should establish monitoring institutions that are well resourced and independent.

    37. Monitoring institutions should have adequate and effective representation by different categories of people with disabilities.

    38. The monitoring tools should be clear and shared with the key stakeholders.


    39. Development partners should provide technical and financial assistance to DPOs to address the challenges faced by people with disabilities.

    40. International Donors should ensure that people with disabilities are involved and benefiting from all bilateral and multilateral funded programmes.

    41. Disabled people and disability issues must be included in every development cooperation agenda of international development partners.

    42. The international development partners should promote south – south cooperation among DPOs and transfer resources directly to them.

    43. International development cooperation/ partnership should promote capacity building and technology support on disability issues to national Governments in the south in line with the UN convention.

    44. Development partners and donors should make funding conditional to addressing the concerns of disabled people and ensure that recipient countries of their development aid mainstream issues of disability in their plans and programmes.

    45. Investors and service providers should take into account the needs of disabled people when designing their projects.

    Dated this 7th day of November 2007



    Commonwealth Disabled Peoples’ Conference
    4th – 7th November 2007, Hotel Africana, Kampala, Uganda
    Final Communiqué

    This conference decides to send the following statement to the Commonwealth Heads of Government’s:

    Resolution From the Commonwealth Disabled People’s Conference to the CHOGM 2007

    NOTING with appreciation the theme of this years CHOGM,

    AWARE that Persons with disabilities are among the poorest of the poor and the most socially excluded,

    EMPHASING the importance of mainstreaming disability issues as an integral part of relevant strategies of sustainable development,

    NOTING the adoption by the 61st UN General Assembly of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,

    APPRECIATING that India and Jamaica have already ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,

    RECOGNISING the diversity of Persons with Disabilities,

    RECOGNISING FURTHER the importance of International cooperation for improving the living conditions of persons with disabilities in every country particularly in developing countries,

    Hereby recommends to the Commonwealth Heads of Government, meeting in Kampala from 23rd – 25th November 2007:

    That all Commonwealth countries:

    1. Ratify and implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and its Optional Protocol.

    2. Adopt disability as a crosscutting issue that should be mainstreamed in domestic policy and planning.

    3. Develop disability polices and programmes to cater for the concerns of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) in line with article 32 of the UN Convention on International Development Cooperation.

    Adopted at Kampala, this 7th day of November 2007

    Thank you to James Mwandha at the Action on Disability and Development Uganda Programme (ADD Uganda) for granting permission to post this memorandum at We Can Do.

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    PAPER: Equalizing Educational Opportunity for the Nigerian-Ghanaian Blind Girl-Child

    Posted on 11 November 2007. Filed under: Academic Papers and Research, Blind, Children, Education, Guest Blogger, Sub-Saharan Africa Region | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

    Equalizing Educational Opportunities for the Nigerian-Ghanaian Blind Girl-Child

    Florence Banku Obi
    Senior Lecturer
    Institute of Education
    University of Calabar

    [Editorial Note: Please note that the original version of this paper contained tables. We Can Do has converted them to text. Any flaws in this conversion are entirely my own and are not the fault of the author of this paper.]

    Education is recognised a major instrument of change and development. In recognising this, the Federal Republic of Nigeria Policy on Education aptly adopted education as an instrument par excellence for effecting national development. Education according to the United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) is a fundamental human right and the key factor to reducing poverty and child labour as well as promoting sustainable development. It is in the light of this that Nigeria and Ghana have well documented policies on the education of children with special needs. However, despite these policies discrimination still pervades in these societies.

    In Africa women generally lack access to education. Girls’ access to education is influenced by traditional considerations and attitudes which make them underrepresented. Girls are usually the first to be pulled out of school when the family suffers some financial lose or constrains. The picture is gloomier when the girl is blind. Girls who are blind in Africa are still to reap the benefit of the fight against gender discrimination which gained popularity in Africa after the Beijing Conference in 1998. They more than their sighted counterpart suffer lots of discrimination especially in the two countries. According to Rannveig Traustadottir as quoted by Bowe (1984) women with disabilities are likely to have received less education than both non-disabled women and men with disabilities. Women with disabilities are five times as likely as women without disabilities to have less than eight years of formal education; 17.4 percent of all women with disabilities have less than eight years of formal education as compared to 3.5 percent of non-disabled women. Only 16 percent of all women with disabilities are likely to have any college education compared to 31 percent of non-disabled women and 28 percent of men with disabilities (Bowe, 1984).

    Accordingly, boys who are blind are more likely to have more and better educational opportunities than girls. Bowe (1984) writing on the educational opportunities open to children with disabilities states that boys are likely to be perceived and identified for special education than girls. While disabled boys count for 51% of all students in elementary and secondary schools and up to 75% of students in special education classes (Russo & Jansen, 1988). in developed countries, they are said to count for less than 10% of the total school age children in Nigeria. Although this figure seems low compared to the non-disabled children there are relatively higher when compared to disabled girls who are in schools. Reasons advanced for why boys are more readily identified as needing special education include their disruptive behaviours which made parents to view them and their education as a priority to enable them develop the skills to be able to support themselves and a family later on.

    The history of education for the blind in Nigeria and Ghana

    Children who are blind did not start to enjoy formal education until the early 1950s. The first school for the blind in Nigeria was established in 1953 at Gindiri in Plateau State by the Sudan United Mission (SUM). The school is now being run by Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN).This was followed up with the establishment of Pacelli School for the Blind at Lagos in 1962 by the Catholic Church and supported by the Federal Government. Oji River Rehabilitation Centre (now Oji River Special Education Centre) in Enugu State was the next in the line. Today there are a number of schools for the blind across the country. Among them include; St Joseph School for the blind, Obudu in Cross River State established in 1972 and supported by the Christoffel Blinden Mission (CBM), Ondo State school for the Blind Owo, School for the handicapped (blind unit) Sokoto, School for the blind Umuahia in Abia State, School for the blind, Zuba, Abuja among others (Olukotun, 2003; Skyes and Ozoji, 1992). Interestingly, the functional schools for the blind still have the missionaries as their proprietors.

    In Ghana, education of children who are blind was initiated by the missionaries and philanthropists (Special Education Division, (SED) 2004). The early attempt according to the SED was made in 1936, when two blind children were taught Braille reading and writing. The success of this experiment led to the establishment of a school for the blind at Akropong-Akuapem in the Eastern Region of the country by the Basel Mission in 1946 (SED, 2004). This became the first school for the blind in West Africa. In 1958, the Methodist Church established the second school for the blind at Wa in the Upper West Region. These two schools till date remain the basic schools for blind children in the country although some children who are blind are also integrated in seven mainstreamed schools across the country.

    Equal Educational Opportunities for all Children
    The basic reasons for the establishment of schools for the blind across the two countries are to provide educational opportunities to the children who are blind and integrate them into their societies. This was to prepare them to be functional citizens who will be able to contribute to the development of their nations and their families and to help them live as near a normal live as possible. These objectives are in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1949, the United Nations General Assembly Charter of 1959, and the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child of 1989 which saw education as a human right issue (Unicef, 2004). Based on these Rights and Conventions all children including those who are blind are to access education by the year 2015. To make this realistic, Unicef (2004) in the Millennium Development Goals resolve to

    “eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieve gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality; expand and improve comprehensive early childhood care and education for girls and boys especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children; promote innovative programmes that encourage schools and communities to search actively for children who have dropped out of schools especially girls ……children with special needs and children with disabilities and help them enrol, attend and successfully complete their education……and ensure that basic education programmes are accessible, inclusive and responsive to children with special learning needs and for children with various forms of disabilities”
    p. 34 & 35.

    It must be stated that in developing the Millennium Development Goals, cognizance was taken of the fact that all children (blind and sighted) are born free and equal in dignity and rights; therefore all forms of discrimination affecting them need be stopped.

    Research Questions
    The study seeks to answer two research questions.
    • Is there gender equity in the educational opportunities for children who are blind in Nigeria and Ghana?
    • Are girls who are blind negatively affected in the provisions of educational opportunities than boys who are blind?

    Subjects and Method
    The study involves only blind children in Nigeria and Ghana. The two schools for the blind in Ghana were involved in addition to all schools mainstreaming the blind. In Nigeria, three schools were used for the study. This was to make for easy data collection due to the size and population of the country. The three schools were visited and data collected from the heads of the schools. The schools used were, St Joseph School for the Blind, Obudu in Cross River State; Gindiri School for the Blind, Plateau State and Oji River Special Education Centre Enugu State. These schools happened also to be among the earliest Blind Schools in the country and were all established by the missionaries.



    Table 1: Population of Blind Children in three selected schools in Nigeria

    Gindiri School for the Blind:
    2003/2004: 49 boys; 20 girls
    2004/2005: 58 boys; 29 girls
    2005/2006: 54 boys; 27 girls
    TOTAL: 161 boys; 76 girls

    St. Joseph Obudu
    2003/2004: 26 boys; 17 girls
    2004/2005: 25 boys; 12 girls
    2005/2006: 21 boys; 18 girls
    TOTAL: 72 boys; 57 girls

    Oji River Centre
    2003/2004: 32 boys; 28 girls
    2004/2005: 28 boys; 23 girls
    2005/2006: 35 boys; 27 girls
    TOTAL: 95 boys; 78 girls

    Table 1 show that for the three years under study, 161 boys representing 67.9% and 76 girls representing 32.1% in Gindiri School for the Blind had access to school. The school records also showed a yearly breakdown of new intakes in primary one in the 2003/2004, academic session to be 9 boys and 8 females; the 2004/2005 had 8 boys and 4 girls while 8 boys and 3 girls were admitted in the 2005/2006 session.

    St Joseph’s School for the Visually Impaired results also show that for the three years under study 72 blind boys as against 57 blind girls had access to school representing 55.8% and 44.2% respectively. The population of Oji River Centre shows that more boys are equally having access to education than girls.


    Table 2: Population of Blind Children in Special Schools in Ghana

    School for the blind-Akropong
    2003/2004: 162 boys; 111 girls
    2004/2005: 164 boys; 101 girls
    2005/2006: 175 boys; 104 girls
    TOTAL: 501 boys; 316 girls

    Wa School for the Blind
    2003/2004: 114 boys; 67 girls
    2004/2005: 108 boys; 65 girls
    2005/2006: 116 boys; 69 girls
    TOTAL: 338 boys; 201 girls

    The above table shows that 501 boys and 316 girls representing 61% and 39% respectively have access to education in the last three years under study in the School for the Blind, Akropong. Data from Wa School for the Blind reveals that 338 boys representing 63% and 201 girls representing 37% have had access to education in Special settings since 2003/2004 academic session. These figures show that more boys have access to education than girls in the country. In the three years under study, 839 and 517 blind boys and girls were in schools respectively. The figures also revealed that girls are more disadvantaged than boys and that there is no gender equity in the provisional of educational services to blind children in Ghana.

    Table 3: Population of blind children mainstreamed in the
    2003/2004 academic year
    Institution Students Enrolment
    Male Female Total

    Three Kings-Blind Unit: 10 males; 5 females; 15 total
    Wa Secondary School: 4 males; 2 females; 6 total
    Presbyterian Training College: 9 males; 6 females; 15 total
    Bechem Blind-Unit: 4 males; 2 females; 6 total
    Wenchi Seondary School: 14 males; 8 females; 22 total
    Cape Coast School for the Deaf-Unit: 9 males; 2 females; 11 total
    Wa Training College: 5 males; 2 females; 7 total
    TOTAL: 55 males; 27 females; 82 total

    The result on the table shows that in the 2003/2004 academic year, 55 males and 27 females who are blind were in mainstreamed schools in Ghana. This represents 67% and 33% boys and girls respectively.

    In Nigeria, results in table 1 shows that more boys have access to education than girls. Data gathered show that 161, 72, and 95 boys who are blind had access to education in Gindiri, Obudu and Oji River respectively. For the girls 76, 57, and 78 had access to Gindiri, Obudu and Oji River respectively. Of the total number of 529 children who are blind in the study schools, 328 are boys while 201 are girls thus representing 62 and 38 percent respectively.

    The result in Ghana is not different either. In tables two and three the data show that more blind boys have access to educational opportunities than the girls. The figures computed show that 839 boys and 517 girls have access to education in segregated special schools. These figures represent 61% for boys and 39% for girls. The results in table three show that they were more boys who are blind in mainstreamed regular schools than girls as at the 2003/2004 academic year. This lopsidedness goes to confirm that there is no gender equity in the provision of educational opportunities to children who are blind in Ghana.

    The findings are in conformity with the general trend where girls are denied educational opportunities in favour of boys. The reasons for this inequality are not far fetched. Women are associated with some stereotyped roles that make them feel subservient to the men in the society. For instance, there is the inculcation of the beliefs in both boys and girls in their formative years that there are definite and separate roles for both sexes (Chizea & Njoku, 1991). For instance, the traditional African society believes and teach that men are the bread-winners and at such they should be full of activity including access to education while women are home makers hence they should be home bound and passive. The socio-cultural environment of the two countries is so discriminatory in terms of gender. The Nigerian report under the United Nations Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women states that women are relegated to the background and stereotyped roles of women drummed into and accepted by them from childhood (Chizea & Njoku, 1991).Abang-Wushishi (2004) pointed out that the different economies and socio-cultural factors affect sex roles and the different socialisation culture of boys and girls and their resulting personality formation. Citing Barry (1959) Abang-Wushishi states that boys were more pressured towards assertiveness, responsibility, achievement and self-reliance. The reasons for this state of affairs are the belief that women would sooner or later marry and their contribution to national development were in the areas of child-bearing, home-making and farming. Obi, (2004) states that the gender stereotyped and socialization process in Nigeria prepared women for domestic roles as housewives even with the introduction of western system of education. Western education was not considered relevant for girls but for boys. The situation is even worse when the girl in question is blind. Most parents have very poor concept of children who are blind especially the blind girl-child. These parents do not think that girls who are blind have bright opportunities in the society. Such parents will rather prefer to spend their money on the boys who have better chances of getting employment, marrying and raising a family. This is because it is not a common occurrence to see women who are blind happily married with children and having paid jobs unlike the case with most men who are blind. Davies (1996) attributed this to the fact that women in the society are still the more nurturing sex and they may be less hesitant to accept date from men who are blind that sighted men will do for girls who are blind. The fact that men find it very difficult to partner a girl who is blind affects the acceptability of such women in the society including the provision of educational services to them. Some informal interactions with some women who are blind revealed that some parents see investment in their education as a double waste of resources and energy for both the girl and the family. Many contend that their parents said they will rather use such monies to cater for their daily needs than school needs. The preference for boys has also to do with the fact that they are seen as those to continue with the family name hence much premium is placed on the birth and education of the boy child even when he is blind.

    Education is seen in the society as the process of developing the whole being, physically, mentally, morally, politically and socially. However, despite the benefit and functions of education in the personal development of an individual and society at large cultural and social norms have been used over the years to deny women the opportunity of developing themselves and contributing to the development of their society. Women with disabilities especially the blind ones are one of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in today’s society. We need to develop a better understanding of their lives in order to remove the obstacles that still remain in their way to equality. The constitutions of Ghana and Nigeria guarantee equal rights to citizens their handicapping condition not withstanding. The two countries educational policies equally advocate for non-discriminatory educational opportunities for all children. More importantly the United Nations in her different conventions on human rights has repeatedly emphasized the need for equal educational opportunities and access by all children irrespective of gender or disability. The governments of Ghana and Nigeria must as a matter of urgency put in place measures to ensure that the blind girl-child has unhindered access to education. Parents need to be sensitized on the need for the education of the blind girl-child. Women organizations and civil right activists should integrate the issues of education of the blind girl-child into their programmes and begin to advocate for the implementation of Nigerian and Ghanaian educational policies that emphasized on equality of educational opportunities for children. Defaulters (Heads of Schools, Parents, Guidance etc) should be prosecuted to serve as deterrents for others.

    Abang-Wushishi, Rose (2004). Perceptions of Female Development. In Oshita O.Oshita (ed) Towards Self-Knowledge: Essays on the Boki Nation. Ibadon. Hope Publications

    Bowe, F. (1984). Disabled women in America: A statistical report drawn from census data. Washington, DC: President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped.

    Chizea, D. O and Njoku, J. (1991) Nigerian Women and the Challenges of our time. Lagos. Malthouse Press Limited.

    Davies, J. (1996). Sexuality Education for Children with Visual Impairment.

    Obi, F.B. (2004). Women, Environment and Development in Boki. In Oshita O. Oshita (ed). Towards Self-Knowledge: Essays on the Boki Nation. Ibadon. Hope Publications

    Olukotu, J.O. (2003). Teaching Children with Blindness and Visual Impairment: A Basic Text. Ibadon. Codat Publications.

    Special Education Department (2004). Special Educational Needs Policy |Framework. Ghana Education Service.

    Skyes, K.C. and Ozoji, E.D. (1992). Teaching Blind and Low Vision Children. Zaria. Ahmadu Bello University Press Ltd.

    United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) (2004). A World Fit for Children. New York.

    Thank you to the author of this paper, Florence Banku Obi, for granting permission to publish it at We Can Do. This paper was previously presented at the presented at the 12th International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairments (ICEVI) World Conference held in Malaysia from 16-21 July 2006 and was also circulated on an email listserv called the “Disability Information Dissemination Network,” which is managed by the ”Centre for Services and Information on Disability”(CSID), Bangladesh and currently sponsored by Sightsavers International. Individuals who wish to join receive papers, news, and announcements like this one relevant to the concerns of people with disabilities in developing countries should send an email to or with the word “join” in the subject line.

    For more papers like this one, click “Academic Papers and Research” under “Categories” in the right-hand navigation bar. For more items related to blind people, or children, or education, or Sub-Saharan Africa generally, please click on the appropriate categories.

    The “tiny URL” to reach this page directly is

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    Please Submit YOUR Materials to We Can Do

    Posted on 7 November 2007. Filed under: Academic Papers and Research, Announcements, Arts, Blind, Call for Papers, Case Studies, Children, Cognitive Impairments, Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR), Cross-Disability, Deaf, Disability Studies, Disaster Planning & Mitigation, East Asia Pacific Region, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Education, Employment, Events and Conferences, Families, Funding, Guest Blogger, HIV/AIDS, Housing, Human Rights, Immigration, Interpreting, Introduction to "We Can Do", Jobs & Internships, Latin America & Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa, Mobility Impariments, Multiple Disabilities, News, Opinion, Opportunities, Policy & Legislation, Poverty, Psychiatric Disabilities, Rehabilitation, Remittances, Resources, South Asian Region, Sub-Saharan Africa Region, Uncategorized, Violence, Volunteer Opportunities, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

    Currently, We Can Do gathers news; announcements; academic papers; case studies; opinion pieces; information about resources; and other materials of interest to disabled advocates and international development professionals from a wide range of sources. In addition to these, from time to time, I write fresh content of my own.

    I also hope to be able to depend heavily on YOU–We Can Do readers–for some of the best, most interesting, and helpful materials. Examples of materials that would interest me include, but are not limited to: “best practice” case studies; “failed practice” case studies; checklists; fundraising advice or resources; other pragmatic resources; academic papers or reports; student projects; press releases; opinion pieces; announcements; and more. For more detail, please click on “Wish List for Written Materials and Resources” at the top navigation bar.

    If you can assist with my current top priority, or with any of the other items in my “wish list”, then PLEASE GET IN TOUCH. Email me at ashettle at patriot dot net or leave a short note in the comment area below and I’ll contact you.

    Current Top Priority for We Can Do

    Are you from Croatia, Cuba, Gabon, Hungary, India, Jamaica, or Panama? If so, were you involved with the movement to persuade your government to sign and ratify the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)? If so PLEASE CONTACT ME (ashettle at patriot dot net, or leave a comment below with your email address).

    I want to interview people involved with these movements (via email) so I can write a story describing what strategies you used; any barriers you faced along the way; how you overcame these barriers; any mistakes you made, how you corrected them, and how other countries can avoid them; what activities or techniques you think were the most critical to your success; and so forth. Sharing this type of information at We Can Do–and elsewhere–could be immensely helpful to disability movements in other countries that are working toward the same goals.

    My primary written language is English, pero puedo escribir y leer, mas o menos, en espanol tambien. (Lo siento para la mala ortografia–no se como crear acentos en WordPress.) Once we are in contact, I will probably have many questions for you–and follow up questions after that!

    Thank you for helping make We Can Do become a strong, good-quality resource for people with disabilities in developing countries and the people who are working hard to meet their needs.

    Edited to Add: I do not post my full email address because any recognizable email address posted on the web then immediately becomes the target of “spam harvesters” and starts receiving tons of unwanted, unsolicited commercial emails. But I spelled it out above and spell it out again here. But this time I’m amplifying it because I realize that not all people have learned how to parse spelled out email addresses:

    My username is: ashettle

    Every email address has an @ at sign @ between the user name and the domain name, thus ashettle@

    My email domain is

    Put it all together and you have my email address.

    Or if that is still too confusing–or if it’s just easier for you–then feel free to leave a note below (with your email address in the area provided for it) and I’ll get in touch.

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    Disability Movement from Charity to Empowerment, by Kishor Bhanushali

    Posted on 22 October 2007. Filed under: Academic Papers and Research, Disability Studies, Guest Blogger, South Asian Region | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

    Probably every wheelchair rider–or at least, the wheelchair users who I know–have had the experience of strangers in the street adamantly insisting on giving them their loose change. Even well-dressed people in three-piece pin-striped suits on their way to white collar jobs in industrialized countries have had strangers simply assume that they must be panhandling–and that they would be thrilled to receive a piece of currency so tiny that it can purchase absolutely nothing in the local economy.

    This event is so ordinary and common in their lives that some disabled people may not even think to mention it until and unless an astonished companion witnesses an incident and asks about it. The attitude reflected by these would-be benefactors can be instantly be recognized by the familiar as the “charity model” of disability described further below in Kishor Bhanushali’s essay.

    For someone new to disability studies, certain terms can seem as bewildering as international development jargon can seem to a grassroots disability (or Deaf/deaf) rights advocate. Concepts such as the distinctions between the “social model” and the “medical model” of disability can initially seem remote from the concerns of someone unfamiliar with disabilities struggling to ensure that disabled people have equal access to the mainstream transportation infrastructure program, or to the HIV/AIDS education outreach project, that they are trying to implement.

    But the attitudes and perspectives of non-disabled people toward people with disabilities can, and do, have a profound impact on our daily lives. Even for a disabled person who has never before heard the phrase “moral model” or “human rights model,” the descriptions of the real-world attitudes upon which these phrases are based are intimately familiar and highly relevant to our lives. They are familiar because we confront them, for better or for worse, in the people we meet–including in our families. And they are relevant because when certain attitudes are pervasive throughout all society, they directly and pragmatically affect what services or human rights are–or are not–available to us.

    This holds as true in developing nations as it does in rich nations. Disabled people have unequal access to resources in their environment not only because they are disabled, or because their country is poor, but also because people and programs following the moral, medical, or charity models (rather than the social or human rights models) may create barriers that prevent their equal participation in society.

    Whether or not you knew it, you are already operating from the perspectives and attitudes described in at least one of the existing “disability models,” as described in the essay below and elsewhere. And so are the programs that you run, support, or work for–even if these projects are not intended to be targeted specifically at people with disabilities. Being aware of the various models and the distinctions among them can be a helpful start in evaluating whether your program is productive and empowering for disabled people–or if your program, entirely without your intent or will, reinforces barriers already present in their environment.

    The author of the paper presented here, Kishor Bhanushali, recently circulated it on the email distribution list for the Global Partnership on Disability and Development (GPDD). He was kind enough to grant permission for it to be posted at We Can Do. I wanted to post this paper so that readers new to the various disability models can receive a brief introduction here. This paper also shares Bhanushali’s observations of the status of people with disabilities in Indian society.

    Kishor Bhanushali is currently working on a book titled “Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities” that will contain articles on various rehabilitation strategies. He invites submissions. Interested parties should contact him directly.

    Changing Face of Disability Movement: From Charity to Empowerment

    By Kishor Bhanushali
    Faculty Member – ICFAI Business School

    National Seminar On
    “Revisiting Social Work in the field of Health – A Journey from Welfare to Empowerment-
    (20-21 February 2007)

    Organised by Faculty of Social Work,
    The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda Vadodara

    Over 600 million people, or approximately 10 per cent of the world’s population, have a disability of one form or another. Over two thirds of them live in developing countries. Only 2 per cent of disabled children in the developing world receive any education or rehabilitation. The link between disability and poverty and social exclusion is direct and strong throughout the world” – Human Rights and Disability (United Nations)

    The problem of disability and movement for disability is as old as mankind. Holy epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata have reference the issue of disability in terms of negative characters of Mnthara, Dhutrastra, and Sakuni. This has created negative impact on the mindset of people about persons with disabilities. During ancient times, persons with disabilities were seen as sin or punishment by God for wrong thing done in last life. This perception has changed over a period of time and persons with disabilities were looked at with pity and charity. But today they have proved themselves as normal citizens. It has been proved that disability lies in the social system and not within persons with disabilities themselves. They need their rights and equal opportunities instead of pity and charity. Disability movement worldwide and within India has a greater role to play in this transformation. This needs to strengthen further. Paper focuses on the changing face of disability movement from looking at persons with disability as a sin to charity mode and towards giving them their rights and equal opportunities. Attempt here is on understand the path of disability movement and its relevance for Indian social work. This will provide an important input for voluntary organizations, government, and the social work professionals working in the area of disability.

    Disability Models:
    Different people conceptualize the phenomenon of disability differently. Accordingly each person will have different meaning for the term disability and rehabilitation strategy to be followed. Accordingly conceptions regarding disability have undergone changes from time to time, from place to place, and from person to person. The meaning of disability for a doctor is different from that of psychologist, economists, and social worker. Accordingly we have different models of disability evolving from disability movement worldwide.

    1. Moral Model
    The oldest model of disability was moral model. Under this model person with disability were seen as sin. Disability was considered as punishment from God for the wrong Karma done in the past. Thus persons with disabilities were treated as alien. They have no right to live in the mainstream society. They are not entitled for any right to education, social life and employment available other members of the society. They themselves are responsible for what they are. The family with disabled member was seen with suspicious. To avoid this disabled member were generally hided by their family. Neither government nor society was concerned with the problems faced by them.

    2. Charity Model
    Charity model is driven largely by the emotive appeals of charity. This model treats people with disabilities as helpless victims needing care and protections. This model relies heavily on the charity and benevolence rather than justice and equality. This model accepts the act of exclusion of persons with disabilities from social arrangements and services in public domain. Charity model justifies the exclusion of persons with disabilities from the mainstream education and employment. Entitlement rights are substituted by relief measures creating an army of powerless individuals, without any control or bargaining power, depending either on the state allocated fund or benevolent individuals. This model asks for social support mechanism for the benefit of person with disability. Initial efforts of the government and individuals were based on this model. Government was allocating large chunk of fund for the welfare of persons with disabilities as direct benefit or support to voluntary organizations. At the same time army of non-governmental organisations working for the benefit of persons with disabilities also relies on the donations and government grants.

    3. Medical Model
    Medical model of disability is based on the postulate that the problems and difficulties experienced by person with disabilities are directly related to their physical, sensory or intellectual impairments. This model defines disability in the clinical framework as diseases state, thus providing for major role for the medical and paramedical professionals to cure this problems in such a way as to make them as normal as possible. Medical model support the postulate that persons with disabilities are biologically and psychologically inferior to other able bodied counterparts. So they are not treated as fully human bacause they lack the competence to decide for themselves. This model reduces disability to impairment and sought to locate it within the body or mind of the individual while the power to define, control and treat disabled individual was located within the medical and paramedical professionals. This model restricts the rehabilitation efforts to medical treatment in terms of protection and cure.

    4. Social Model
    In contrast to medical model, which locates disability within the person with disabilities, social model postulates that persons is disabled because of architectural, attitudinal and social barriers created by the society. The social model presents disability as a consequence of oppression, prejudice and discrimination by the society against disabled people. It is the society, which constructs economic, social, health, architectural, legal, and cultural and other barriers in order to deliberately prevent people with impairments enjoying full benefits of social life. The social model shifts the emphasis from a disabled individual to the society and its disabling attitudes and environment. People who believe on social model are of he view that handicap is made and not acquired. So the solution lies in social management by all necessary environmental modification.

    5. Economic Model
    The economic model tries to establish the linkages between the individual and society in term of their contribution to productive capabilities of the society. The emphasis here is on health related limitations on the amount and kind of work performed by person with disabilities. This approach suggests that the employment problems of person with disabilities stem from faulty economic system and deficiencies on the part of such disadvantage individuals. The vocational rehabilitation programmes or income generation programmes are principle solutions to the problems faced by persons with disabilities. Existing policies plays a greater role in condemning the disabled man and women to a life of perpetual dependency thus providing low pay work ad limited opportunities for all around development. Unlike other models, economic model suggest that the modifications in the persons in the form of education, training and employability, rather than changing the environment and worksite changes or changes in the perception of employees is the most desirable means of fulfilling the social and economic needs of the disadvantages strata of the society.

    6. Human Rights Model
    Over the past two decades, dramatic shift in the perspective has taken place from an approach motivated by charity towards persons with disabilities to one based on rights. Disability is positioned as an important dimension of human culture by human rights model. According to human rights model all human beings irrespective of their disabilities have certain rights, which are unchallengeable. By emphasizing that the disabled are equally entitled to rights as others, this model builds upon the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, according to which, ‘all human beings are born free and equal in rights and dignity”. This model emphasis on viewing persons with disabilities as subjects and not as objects thus locating the problem outside the disabled persons and addresses the manners in which the economic and social processes accommodate the differences of disability or not, as the case may be.

    Indian Scenario
    In all countries of the world, persons with disabilities are the largest minority group starved of services and facilities available to their non-disabled counterparts. As a result they are least nourished, least healthy, least educated and least employed. They are subject to the long history of neglect, isolation, poverty, deprivation, charity and pity. The situation of persons with disabilities in India is not significantly different. The responsibility of care of persons with disabilities is generally left to their families and few institutions managed by voluntary organisations and government. Disabled in India is mostly ignored by the society because they do not have economic, political or media power. Census of India, for the first time, enumerated persons with disabilities in 2001 according to which more than 2 crore people are facing the problem of disability. In comparison to United Nations figure of 10 percent, Census of India figure is very small. The reason lies in the different approaches and definitions. Within India results of National Sample Survey Organisation and Census of India shows contradictory results. This speaks about the lack of sensitivity on the issue of disability.

    The legal framework adequately addresses the issue of disability. Constitution of India, guarantees a right of justice, liberty of thought, expression, belief and worship and equality of status and of opportunities for all citizens including person with disabilities. Apart form constitutional provisions the collective struggle of all disabled and their advocates resulted in ‘Persons with Disabilities (Equal opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Bill, passed in 1995. This Act is a comprehensive and farreaching legislation with promise of liberating mankind of its prejudices and of removing barriers that have crippled the disabled for centuries. By granting full equality, independence and freedom, act has opened doors to people with disabilities so that the can become an integral part of the mainstream society. Apart from PWD Act, we have other legislative provisions like The Mental Health Act 1987, Rehabilitation Council of India Act 1992, and The National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disability Act 1999 are also available to safeguard the interest of person with Disabilities. Government of Gujarat has passed Gujarat Physically Handicapped Persons (Employment in Factories) Act 1982 which provide for the reservation for person with disabilities in private sector factories. The fruits of these legislative provisions are not percolating to persons with disabilities because of lack of awareness. Even voluntary organisations working for persons with disabilities themselves are not aware about the legal provisions. Overlapping of functions of judicial machinery makes things more complicated.

    Large numbers of voluntary organisations are operating in India, especially for the welfare of person with disabilities. Sincere and dedicated efforts on the part of government and voluntary organisations have resulted in high level of literacy among person with disabilities and increased awareness among persons with disabilities and their parents about their rights and capabilities. But the dark side is that, many of voluntary organisations believe on charity model. These organisations are not professionally managed. They are depending on government and other donors for financial support. Only a few of them are providing vocational training and employment services for person with disabilities. Vocational trainings provided by voluntary organisations are not professionally designed lacking in marketability and employability. So even after getting training person with disabilities are not suitably employed. Secondly more than 75 percent of persons with disabilities are living in rural areas where as voluntary efforts are concentrated in urban locations. Very few organisations are working for rural disabled. Voluntary organisations have to extend their operations in rural areas as well.

    Employment is really a problem for person with disabilities. Unemployment rate among person with disabilities is more than double the unemployment rate among their nondisabled counterparts. The reasons lie in the suspicions of the employers who believe on medical model and consider them inferior to their non-disabled counterparts. They prefer to donate for the welfare of persons with disabilities rather than giving them employment opportunities. Physical and mental impairment is more visible to them compared to their abilities. A Three percent reservation as provided by PWD Act has remained on paper even after more than a decade of passage of legislation.

    The policies and schemes of government are guided by medical model rather than human rights model. Major efforts on the part of government are limited to physical rehabilitation in the form of preventive action, provision for aids and appliances etc. Efforts in the direction of human rights model has remain on paper because of the ignorance on the part of persons with disabilities, and voluntary organisations.

    Disability movement in India has succeeded in changing the approach towards disability from moral model to charity model but limited has been achieved in the direction of human rights model. Collective efforts on the part of person with disabilities, their advocates, voluntary organisations, government and society at large are required to create real world where abilities and disabilities are not seen on the basis of physical or mental impairment but disability is seen as diverse abilities.

    1. The Census of India 2001, Government of India
    2. The National Sample Survey Organisations, 58 th Round 2002, Government of India
    3. Disability Status in India: Retrospect and Prospects, by G.N. Karna, Gyan Publishing house, New Delhi.
    4. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, United Nations
    5. Persons with Disabilities (Equal opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995, Government of India
    6. The Mental Health Act 1987, Government of India
    7. Rehabilitation Council of India Act 1992, Government of India
    8. The National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disability Act 1999, Government of India.
    9. National Human Rights Commission,
    10. Identifying Disability Issues Related to Poverty Reduction: India Country Study, Asian Development Bank

    I will likely post more materials (or links to same) on the various models of disability, and how they relate to the international development field, in future blog posts at We Can Do. But for now, let me quickly link to two essays that discuss particularly the “medical” and “social” models in further depth. Both are posted by a British blogger who dubs herself “Lady Bracknell”: “Impairment versus disability” and “The social model of disability.”

    Please note that Lady Bracknell’s use of terminology such as the distinction between “disabled” and “impaired” is a very British usage and differs from the usage of similar terminology by writers from other countries.

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    Violence Against Blind/VI Girls in Malawi

    Posted on 6 October 2007. Filed under: Academic Papers and Research, Blind, Case Studies, Children, Guest Blogger, Sub-Saharan Africa Region, Violence | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

    This paper was presented by its author Abigail Suka at the 12th International Council on Education for People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI) World Conference held in Malaysia from 16-21 July 2006.  Although she was with Sightsavers International at the time she presented this paper, Abigail Suka is now an independent consultant in development issues, team building, and planning.  She is also a part-time postgraduate student working toward a Masters of Public Health (MPH) at the University of Malawi.  Thank you to Abigail Suka for granting permission to publish her paper at We Can Do.

    Violence against Girls who are Blind and
    Visually Impaired in Schools in Malawi

    Abigail Suka
    Country Representative
    Sight Savers International
    Private Bag A 197
    In Malawi violence against girls (VAG) is rampant. Research work commissioned between recently by DFID, Action Aid and its partners shows that out of all the incidences of violence in schools 65% of these affect girls while 35% affect boys.(1) None of this research has looked at how violence in school affects girls with disabilities in general and visual impairment in particular.

    Sight Savers International (SSI) in Malawi is a member of the Civil Society Coalition for Quality Basic Education (CSQBE) which recently conducted a study on Violence Against Girls. SSI collaborated with Malawi Union of the Blind to also gather some information from this study and extrapolate it to attempt to establish how the girl who is blind is affected by such violence. This paper reports issues raised in discussions held by the writer with MUB Girl Guide members using the CSQBE study report as a guide, and some key informants, mainly blind young women who have defied the odds and passed through an unsafe school system. It also draws on literature available on the subject.

    What is Gender Based Violence (GBV)?
    The Fourth World Conference of Women, held in Beijing, China in 1995, reported the continued exploitation and abuse of girls in spite of the ratification of various UN conventions notably the Convention of the Rights of the Child of 1989. Specific issues raised included the violence directed at girls in the form of female genital mutilation, forced and early marriages, sexual exploitation, unequal access to education and health care. GBV recognizes that violence directed at girls and women is expressive of patriarchal power and authority.(2)

    What is School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV)?
    SRGBV comes in various forms such as sexual, physical, verbal, emotional and psychological and occurs in and out of school. Perpetrators of VAG are many but most of the VAG is committed by male pupils and male teachers thereby making schools unsafe for girls. This problem came into the limelight because in most schools enrolment for girls in upper primary school and secondary schools in much lower than boys. Moreover in most schools girls perform poorly during classroom exercises, tests and examinations. This problem is partly attributed to violence and is of concern because they cause high drop out and low education attainment for girls.

    The Global Statistics on Violence Against Girls with Disabilities
    The FREDA Research Centre on VAG, based in Canada, reports that (3)
    • 53% of women with disabilities from birth have been raped, abused, or assaulted (Lynn & O’Neill 1995:278)
    • The rate of sexual abuse for girls with disabilities is quadruple that of the national average (Razack 1994)
    Another study conducted through the New York City Board of Education who documented cases of adult to student sexual abuse found that whilst students receiving special education made up only 7% of the student body as a whole, they made up twice that percentage of targets of abuse.(4) A report by Waxman Fiduccia summarizing a few studies that offer a gender breakdown suggests that women and girls face higher rates of abuse than men and boys, often at the rate of more than twice the rate of non disabled girls. (5)

    Perceptions about Violence Against Girls
    Centre for Social Research in Malawi found the following perceptions about acts that constitute violence against girls at school(6):

    • Corporal punishments like digging pits, molding bricks during class time
    • Teasing, bullying and beating by boys and teachers
    • Forced to have relationships and sex with boys and teachers
    • Verbal abuse
    • Sexually harassment i.e. touching their breasts and other private parts.
    • Rape
    • Impregnation
    • Discrimination by teachers.
    • Suspending and expelling girls without warnings.
    • Not giving girls chance to voice out their views.

    A focus group discussion undertaken with Malawi Union of the Blind – Youth Wing girls when they were undergoing Girl Guide training, identified all the above as factors affecting them and added some more as:

    • Threats and actual sexual abuse from specialist teachers, class room (contact) teachers and blind boys
    • Promises to marry from blind adults in leadership positions in the organization of the Blind
    • Extensive teasing, such as leading them to a wrong classroom, hiding their white cane and their writing materials (Primary Education Pack)
    • Not escorting them to the toilet
    • Name Calling: For girls with albinism and low vision they face ridiculing name calling such as Zigoma: after the name of a singer with albinism or Mzungu or whitey
    • Verbal abuse : belittling them suggesting no one would be interested in an affair with a blind girl

    The Face of SRGBV: Low Enrolment of Visually Impaired Girls in School
    There are more women with visual impairment than men, however enrolment figures obtained from an integrated education programme that Sightsavers International supports consistently show a lower enrolment of girls in primary schools. Data from 8 project districts is tabulated below:

    ENROLMENT 2004
    Blantyre 10 129 81 210
    Lilongwe 11 140 104 244
    Rumphi 8 64 64 128
    Chikwawa 5 37 28 65
    Zomba 6 35 39 74
    Salima 5 41 30 71
    Balaka 6 45 58 103
    Machinga 8 65 80 145

    Total 59 556 484 1040
    53% 47%

    The Basic Education Statistics 2005, reported national enrollment of visually impaired children in schools in 2005 to be 15490 (7), of which 7412(47%) are girls and 8078 (53%) are boys, as in the project districts supported.

    Analysis of the Basic Education Statistics published for 2005 demonstrates that of the number of visually impaired girls who would have started off primary school in Standard 1, only 15% make it to the final class in primary school (Standard 8) indicating an unacceptably high level of drop outs. Although ‘lack of interest’ is indicated as the major reason contributing to high drop out, this consultation and other evidence suggests that violence against these visually impaired girls in school is a key factor in this high drop out rate. Or at least violence in schools is a major cause of the lack of interest, in other words, girls simply stop going to school because of the unsafe environment and this is interpreted as ‘ a lack of interest’ Compared to sighted girls, 25% reach the final primary school class. Compared to visually impaired boys, 31% would reach Standard 8, even beating the sighted pupils demonstrating that girls in general occupy a lower place in society. This also accentuates the fact that when a girl, is not only a girl but is also blind, the odds of her finishing her education are even more limited.

    Sadly continuation to secondary school is even more dismal. Of 607 girls with visual impairment who would have completed Standard 8 in 2005, only 217 (35%) would make it to secondary school and not all of these will complete secondary school.

    Factors affecting their propensity to Violence
    The first obvious factor has to be the limitation caused by the disability itself that may make it more difficult for a girl with visual impairment to detect or even discern the behavior of her perpetrator. Harilyn Rousso in her paper on ‘Sexual harassment in Schools’ intimates that ‘disability – related limitations make it difficult for girls with certain disabilities, to detect and fully understand the nature of the perpetrators behaviour, and some disabilities may limit her ability to defend herself or move away from perpetrators and to report incidents of violence.(8)

    The more underlying reasons however lie in the negative attitudes that girls with disability face in their day to day lives. The focus group discussion undertaken with MUB girl guides indicate that many suffer from low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence which makes them portray a sense of helpless which in turn licenses perpetrators. For many girls such abuses start from their homes and extend to their trusted mentors such as a specialist teacher. There is no data to quantify the extent to which people in position of trust such as specialist teachers and classroom teacher, guides etc. This is mainly because the girls will lack the courage to report. Those who can talk about it are no longer in the school system.
    In her paper, The Girl Child: Having to ‘Fit’, Yasmin Jiwani, Ph.D. states that ‘girls with disabilities experience higher rates of sexual abuse (at 4 times the national average) because of their dependent status, isolation, and the negative stereotypes that prevail in the dominant society. Afraid to report the abuse because of the fear of not being believed, many of these girls continue to lead lives that are jeopardized by threats and actual incidents of violence’ They are often stereotyped, thereby undermining for actors to deal with unique and specific issue different to each girl. Harilyn Rousso reports of an extreme example of a stereotypical attitude in an incident of a young woman with disability who tried to report an attempted rape, her counselor said ‘Who would want to rape YOU?’ Furthermore, it is unbelievable that in some countries some courts will not entertain allegations of sexual violence brought by blind women or girls, because of supposed difficulties in identifying the perpetrator.

    Why should we address Violence against Visually Impaired girls NOW?

    1) MDGs and EFA
    One of the UN Millennium Development Goals adopted by the Heads of State and Government is to ensure that children everywhere, boys and girls alike, should be able to complete a full course of primary schooling by 2015. In order to achieve this goal, there is need for a 100% net enrolment and completion rates for school age children, including those with disabilities. There are far too few girls with disabilities completing school (15%). If this phenomenon is not addressed, it threatens to derail efforts by governments and other stakeholders to promote girls education and achieve 2015 Education for All (EFA) goals. Without visually impaired girls attaining an education, MDG and EFA will not be a reality for Malawi.

    Girls with Disabilities are bound together by double discrimination based on gender and disability. Statistics tell us that females with disabilities are achieving less in terms of employment and socialization into the mainstream of life than men with disabilities, with the vast majority of women living in dependent and comparatively impoverished circumstances.(9) In many developing countries, there are few educational opportunities for girls with disability. When there are opportunities for education, in special schools, boys usually receive them. Therefore it is necessary to ensure that where visually impaired girls are managing to go to school as is the case in Malawi where at least 400 girls with visual impairment were attending an integrated education in 2004, concerted effort should be made by stakeholders in their education to make sure that they stay in school.

    2) The time is right
    There is sufficient platform provided by Women’s Rights Activism, Women Disability Rights and the UN Charter on Disabilities. These international instruments will help to accelerate the effort to address and advocate for safe environment for girls who are blind and visually impaired to go to school.

    3) HIV/AIDS
    In Malawi, we are racing against the deadly HIV/AIDS pandemic. Not only is the rate of HIV/AIDS among people with disabilities threatening to scourge, on account of poverty related socio economic factors and attitudes, but sadly also due to prevalent cultural beliefs that having sex with a person with a disabilities will cure or ‘cleanse’ you of AIDS. Grace Massa, chairperson of Albinism Fellowship in Malawi intimates it is a common belief that girls with albinism are the best ‘cleansers’. (10)

    According to the World Bank funded Global Survey of HIV/AIDS among disabled populations(11), HIV/AIDS is a significant and almost wholly unrecognized problem among disabled populations worldwide. A growing body of literature and experience supports the notion that HIV/AIDS educational, testing and clinical programs around the world are largely inaccessible to individuals with disability.

    Continued low literacy rates among disabled individuals, particularly girls present real challenges to prevention efforts. It is therefore imperative that we address the issue of a safe environment for a girl who is blind to stay in school so that she can have higher literacy rates.

    What strategies can we employ?
    Concrete information: Obtaining information and data is the first step towards developing appropriate responses and services. It has been acknowledge that there is insufficient information in this important area. We need to undertake studies specifically addressing Violence against Girls with Disabilities and specifically with visual impairment because there are unique aspects to visual impairment.

    Challenging stereotypes: through community education, youth projects and media campaigns. In particular challenging “the almost universal belief that disabled people cannot be a reliable witness on their own behalf.” (12)

    Raising awareness: of the adverse effect SRGBV has on a girl who is blind to the various audiences that we have access to.

    Empowerment Programmes specifically designed to empower girls who are blind and visually impaired. Many state that they fail to report incidents of violence because they were shy. Therefore, programmes to improve the assertiveness of girls are necessary.

    However, shyness sometimes comes about because the reporting procedures themselves are not conducive. Therefore, advocating for the establishment of ‘safe pathways’ or procedures that encourages girls who are blind to report incidents of violence.

    Advocacy & Coalition Building – by remaining alert on SRGBV issues and participating in the wider advocacy arena, we can influence changes in legislation, school practice and curricula aimed at stopping violence against girls and we will have opportunity to add a voice regarding the girl who is blind. Joining established ‘voices’ or platforms such as the Civil Society Coalition will add credibility and muscle to our voice. Going it alone is unnecessary and expensive. However for us to participate in this advocacy effort we need to bring a body of evidence to the table, hence the need for professional research in this area.

    Motivation & Role Models – What would be the point of going to school if there no hope of you getting employment or engaging in meaningful pursuits? There is a role that role models can play. In this regards, the few girls who are blind and have completed their education and are participating meaningfully and interdependently in society need to be involved in programmes to reach the younger blind girls and talk to them about what career options they have. In this regard most of the key informants to this interview are in that category. They have demonstrated that they are not passive victims of harassment and violence. Theirs are stories that also need to be told.

    (1) CSCQBE report 2005
    (2) The Girl Child: Having to Fit by Yasmin Jiwani 19998.
    (3) The FREDA Centre for Research on Violence Against Girls and Women
    (4) Sexual Harassment in School, An invisible issue for Girls and Young Women with Disabilities, Harilyn Rouso
    (5) Disabled Women and violence Fact sheet, B.F. Waxman Fiduccia
    (6) Study Report: Violence Against Girls in School by University of Malawi, Centre for Social Research
    (7) Education Basic Statistics Malawi 2005, ME&HRD Statistics Unit, Page 33
    (8) Harilyn Rousso, Sexual Harassment in Schools: An invisible Issue for Girls and Young Women with Disabilities
    (9) Having a Daughter With a Disability: Is it Different For Girls? An extract from news Digest
    (10) Newspaper article, Grace Massa, Chairperson of Albino Association in Malawi
    (11) Groce N. Global Survey on HIV/AIDS and Disability. The World Bank/Yale University. April 2004.
    (12) Nosek MA, Howland CA, Hughes RB. The investigation of abuse and women with disabilities: going beyond assumptions. Violence Against Women2001; 7:477-99.


    We Can Do first received this paper via the Disability Information Dissemination Network, which is sponsored by Sightsavers International. If you wish to receive papers like this one directly, you can subscribe to the CSID mailing list by sending an email to or and putting the word “join” in the subject line.

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