Ensuring participation of the most vulnerable is part of good development practice. For TEAR Australia’s Christian partners around the world, designing development projects that meet the complex needs of communities experiencing poverty means being aware of those excluded from mainstream society.
Though people with disabilities are consistently over-represented in poverty, they are also conversely, more likely to be excluded from fully participating in community life and in development programs. High levels of stigma and discrimination, often stemming from a lack of understanding about disability, often prevent the full participation of people with disabilities in community life. Yet, every person, including those with disability, has the capacity to contribute to their community, and has the right to participate.
By taking small steps towards disability inclusion, TEAR’s partners in Bangladesh are finding that their programs are creating better outcomes - for the whole community.
‘Champions’ or supportive people within organisations play an important role in promoting inclusive practice, encouraging and prompting progress. Actively meeting and connecting with people with disabilities to listen and learn has also been central. This has helped the staff of our partners to better understand the capacities and contribution of people with disabilities, as well as to reflect on their own personal attitudes. For organisations not already focused on disability work, connecting with organisations of people with disabilities has also been a source of practical support, advice, and encouragement on the journey to shape programs so that all people can participate.
Other steps towards disability inclusion have been:
So how do TEAR’s partners put these steps into practice? Our partners in Bangladesh shed some light on what’s made a difference.
In Symbiosis Bangladesh, they’ve created opportunities for people with disabilities to exercise their leadership skills by employing or mobilising them to work as staff and community volunteers. This has given opportunities for people with disabilities to help improve life in their own community in a leadership capacity. Over time, this also helps change the community’s mindset that disability means inability, leading to improved community inclusion.
Shopna is employed by Symbiosis as a community worker. Her role is to manage the community library in Kandar Para, and support a number of women’s Self-Help Groups. As a person with a disability, Shopna has faced discrimination and ignorance. Since she started working with Symbiosis, the community’s attitude towards her has started to change. She is a capable staff member and Symbiosis staff say that that they have learnt many things from her. They say “the determination, sincerity and initiative she has shown are an encouragement for others”.
Shopna’s work has made her well known in the community and she has raised a lot of awareness about the abilities and rights of people with disabilities. The good work that she does means that “other people in the community are encouraged to follow her example”.
Another one of TEAR’s partners, Faith in Action is taking a rights based approach. Their staff are aiming to build the capacity of communities to know about their rights and entitlements, and gain access government resources, services and safety nets.
The Faith in Action staff have identified the importance of developing linkages at the project level with Government Departments, including the Social Welfare Department and other facilities like local Health Services. Creating forums where communities and officials can sit and interact together has helped build shared understanding, strengthen linkages and build confidence to access Government training, resources and information that can assist people living in poverty.
By knowing that entitlements were available, they could freely share this information with self-help groups and in community meetings. In the Faith in Action project, this has meant that many people with disabilities are now registered and have a disability card, through which they can get a small pension to support living expenses, as well as access to assistive devices such as wheelchairs.
Symbiosis and Faith in Action are just two examples. There are many more. They show the commitment that our partners in Bangladesh have towards a future where everyone, especially people with disabilities, is valued and respected as part of the family and community. A future where everyone will be able to reach their full potential.
With small steps, change is possible.