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Self-Help Initiatives A key to empowerment of by lonyoo


									                 Self-Help Initiatives: A key to empowerment of
                      People With Disabilities in Bangladesh
                         Md. Mahbubul Ashraf, Coordinator, AWDP-Bangladesh
Self-help initiative is one of the most important means of empowerment of People With
Disabilities (PWDs). It’s an effort of changing situation by utilizing own resources and
potentials. PWDs’ self-help initiative is a group solidarity which enables them to support
each other and to overcome common difficulties through the exchange of experiences,
information, insight and knowledge. That solidarity and mutual support serve as a basis for
collective action to improve the existing situation of PWDs in the community. In Bangladesh,
we have got experiences of implementing self-help initiatives in diverse modalities. It has
been taken at different levels by different stakeholders including PWDs and parents. Though
the modalities of such initiatives are little bit different from one another based on the needs
and circumstances, but the objective is common: `Empowerment of PWDs through
establishing their Rights’.

Importance of Self-help initiatives:
It is an established fact that PWDs have their equal rights, similar human needs and
potentials as others living in the community. But they had been increasingly continued to be
marginalized because of their lack of wider participation in the mainstream development and
decision making process. As a result issues of self-help initiatives of PWDs have come
forward and getting stronger day by day. As PWDs are the expert of their own issues
they are most appropriate and equipped to help each other for the fulfillment of their
rights and development needs, as well as making others to listen to their voices and
In recognition of this fact
      In 1982, The United Nations General Assembly, in its World Programme of Action
       concerning Disabled Persons, stressed on the establishment and growth of
       organizations of disabled persons as well as facilitating participation of PWDs and
       their organizations in the decision making.
      In 1987, a regional expert seminar called upon the ESCAP secretariat, ESCAP
       members and associate members and other concerned agencies and organizations
       in the Asian and Pacific region to provide assistance in establishing and
       strengthening self-help organizations of disabled persons in order to enhance the
       participation of disabled persons at all levels of society.
      In 1988, the General Assembly, through its resolution 43/98, requested the
       Secretary-General to, inter-alia, promote and support the establishment of strong
Asia & Pacific Disability Forum, 3rd General Assembly & Conference February 27-29, 2008 Dhaka, Bangladesh   1
       national organizations of disabled persons. The UN Standard Rules, articulated,
       ‘States should recognize the rights of organizations of persons with disabilities to
       represent persons with disabilities at national, regional and local levels. States should
       also recognize the advisory role of organizations of persons with disabilities in
       decision-making on disability matters’.
      In 2002, self-help organizations of persons with disabilities and related family and
       parent associations came up as the topmost among seven priority areas of actions in
       BMF, intended for the decade 2003-2012 in the Asian and Pacific region.
      And in September 2006, at a mid point review meeting on BMF this priority kept with
       same importance for the rest years of the decade, in Biwako plus five. Therefore,
       implementation of self-help initiatives of PWDs has got utmost importance for
       empowerment of people with disabilities globally and regionally.

Emergence and approaches:
If we look through the emergence of PWDs’ self-help initiatives in Bangladesh we will find a
history of more than four decades. Since 1963 we have been experiencing self-help
initiatives in different modalities and approaches that include Disabled Peoples’ (self-help)
Organizations (DPOs), parent associations and self-help group/peer group activities. PWDs’
self-help initiatives in Bangladesh were pioneered by some dedicated leaders with hearing
and visual disability, professionals and parents. In the course of time a large number of
people with disabilities from different levels and categories have come forward towards
strengthening this movement.

Self-help initiatives have been taken up by PWDs’ Self-help Organizaitons in different
communities on different perspectives. Therefore approaches and modalities were
sometimes different from one another though the purpose was same, strengthening self-
representation, participation and integration of PWDs in the mainstream. There remains
some variation in defining DPOs from organization to organization in terms of composition
(percentage/ratio of PWD members), combination and representation (representatives of
CWDs, PWIDs and PWSDs).

Trend and Practices:
PWDs’ Self-help endeavors were initiated in the country in early sixties through the
formation of Bangladesh National Federation of the Deaf (BNFD) in 1963 and National
Federation of the Blind (NFB) in 1964. Those organizations were mainly comprised of deaf
and blind people respectively.

Asia & Pacific Disability Forum, 3rd General Assembly & Conference February 27-29, 2008 Dhaka, Bangladesh   2
Bangladesh National Federation of the Deaf (BNFD) comprised of majority number of deaf
men and women. It is governed by an elected body. Deaf People tend to practice a
democratic culture within this organization. Major activities of this organization include
promotion of education and vocational training for deaf people and to promote their sports
and cultural activities. Deaf members of this organization have got their strong feelings of
affiliation and belongingness to this organization because they have got their united voice on
their own issues of awareness, advocacy, rights, dignity and empowerment through it. They
feel much comfortable and friendly within the environment of this DPO.

National Federation of the Blind-NFB, as a pioneer Disabled Peoples’ Organization of the
country has significant contribution towards consolidating disability movement through the
promotion of rights, participation, education and other concerns of PWDs of the country.
NFB comprised of blind members and sighted associates. In its Central Executive
Committee (CEC) four sighted associates including the Treasurer contributes in an inclusive

In 1985 Bangladesh Protibandhi Kallyan Samity (BPKS) emerged as a cross disability self-
help organization in the country. It promotes disabled peoples’ organizations (DPOs) at
grassroots level through an approach `Persons with disabilities’ Self-initiatives to
Development (PSID)’. Through this approach BPKS organizes people with disabilities at
grassroots levels and contributes for the promotion of accessibility, participation, capacity
building and issues of the rights of PWDs. Through the efforts of this organization DPOs
have been promoted in 29 districts of the county. This organization comprised of PWDs of
all categories and governed by a participatory process.

Action on Disability and Development ADD, a UK based organization started working in
Bangladesh In 1995-96 to bringing people with disabilities in to development work who are
rarely included. ADD promotes an action oriented, and rights based approach in the country
through the promotion of socio-cultural and political rights, accessibility and participation. It
organizes and promotes Grassroots Disabled Peoples’ Organizations. Now it has been
working in 23 districts of the country.

There remain a good number of organizations working for people with disabilities in the
country those have been organizing self-help groups/peer groups of people with disabilities,
parents, children and women with disabilities. These groups have also been playing
significant roles in the promotion of rights and dignity of people with disabilities in
Bangladesh. These organizations have been playing a catalytic role in the promotion of
PWDs’ self-help organizations in the country. Among such organizations Center for the
Asia & Pacific Disability Forum, 3rd General Assembly & Conference February 27-29, 2008 Dhaka, Bangladesh 3
Rehabilitation of the Paralysed-CRP has played an encouraging roles to empower PWDs by
their own organizations. CRP is the largest Center for treatment and rehabilitation of
persons with physical (spinal injured) disability. CRPs effort was to organize those PWDs
who have got treatment from this center and living in the community. Initially it organized
peer groups (local action groups) of people with disabilities and after that they were
organized under their own self-help organizations so that they can have their own legal
entity and organized strength.

Parents’ Initiatives:
Initiatives by the parents are still insignificant in the country in comparison to others. In
1977, some parents who were having a lot of trouble and agony with their children with
unusual behavior, initiated a parents’ organization ‘Society for the Care and Education of the
Mentally Retarded Children (SCEMRC)’ with the view to contribute for establishing equal
rights of the intellectually disabled and to create provision for education training and
rehabilitation of their intellectually disabled children; and to develop skilled manpower for
working with the intellectually disabled.. The name of this society was later on changed to
SCEMRB and now Society for the Welfare of the Intellectually Disabled (SWID) Bangladesh.
This organization pioneered inclusive education for students with intellectual disability and
working through 44 branches over 37 districts of the country.

In 1985 there was another parents’ initiative through which `Bangladesh Parents’ Club of the
Deaf (BPCD)’ was established, in order to extend mutual support and cooperation for the
development and welfare of their deaf children. BPCD promotes education and vocational
training for deaf children. It is also carrying out marriage counseling for deaf boys and girls
to bring them into their own (conjugal) family life. Nowadays there are some other initiatives
by the parents of autistic children and organizing mothers’ club is in the process.

Some impact in the country context:
Disability movement in this country was based on charity approach until mid fifties. This
charity approach was changed to welfare approach in late fifties (1956-57). At that time
there were only few organizations of disabled people (DPOs) in this country and a very
small number of people with disabilities had their scopes to talk about disability and disabled
people. Thus the then PWD leaders had brought this movement forward and led it towards a
rights based approach that we talking about today. The then leaders with disability through
their self-help initiatives contributed towards organizing worldwide advocacy campaign for
disability movement. As an impact of the activities of DPOs a large number of development
NGOs have given attention to this issue and were motivated to contribute to this issue

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simultaneously with other disability organizations and DPOs and this issue got an impetus
for mainstream development.
As the most significant impact of self-help movement in this country we have got our
National Policy and legislative tools and instruments for the rights of PWDs

Future Challenges and Consolidation:
Self-help organizations were established here by a spontaneous process even under
restricted conditions in terms of resource availability, common understanding and proper
coordination. Though there is a National Disability Forum, NFOWD, the largest network of
organizations working in the field of disability in Bangladesh having 259 member
organizations there emerged two other networking bodies of DPOs in the country `National
Alliance of Disabled Peoples’ Organizations (NADPO)’ having 66 member DPOs under
BPKS patronization and National Grassroots Disabled’ Organization (NGDO)’ having 92
member DPOs supported by ADD.

In this situation there have been observed a mixed impression and keen interest among
PWDs and other organizations working on disability. Strong enthusiasm as well as distortion
of        understanding       has       also       been       observed         among        them.           As
self-help organizations of people with disabilities has got utmost importance to promote
rights, dignity and an inclusive society for all there remains a strong need for proper
information, communication and consolidating all self-help endeavors of PWDs and others.

Through my presentation I have tried to make a small introduction to this issue in
Bangladesh and still there remain a large number of organizations with their noble
contributions. I believe consolidation of each and every such initiative through sharing of
experiences, exchange of resources and information and establishing a coordination
mechanism at local, national and regional level will strengthen PWDs’ self-help initiatives
within this region by many times.

Md. Mahbubul Ashraf
Secretary & Coordinator, AWDP-Bangladesh
Convener, Self-help Initiatives Thematic Group, National Disability Forum, Bangladesh
Member, ICT Thematic Group, National Disability Forum, Bangladesh
Freelance Development Activist on Disability Information and Communication

Asia & Pacific Disability Forum, 3rd General Assembly & Conference February 27-29, 2008 Dhaka, Bangladesh    5

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