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     Volume 5 Issue 124 | December 15, 2006 |

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Special Feature

Those Special Ones

Elita Karim

The wheelchair is now a part of his life, but this does not stop the CDD staff worker to carry organise and coordinate activities and training sessions with the rest of his colleagues

Thirty two-year-old Rasedul Azam Russell works at the Centre for Disability in Development (CDD) as a computer programmer. Working in this establishment based in Savar from 9 in the morning till evening, Russell is one of the fastest typists, experiments with all the new computer programmes that he can get his hands on and is also one of the key organisers and guides in the many training sessions that take place for the disabled people at CDD. What is different about him is that Russell was born with no arms. The youngest of all his siblings, he is the only one that was born disabled. “I never went to a special school of any kind,” he says. “And neither was I treated any different than my siblings at home. I was given all the opportunities for any normal boy my age. Thanks to my family and friends, I even took extra training on computer programming.” A wonder in itself, not only does Russell use his toes to type on the keyboard of the computer, he also uses them to hold a spoon and a fork to eat and hold a pen to write. “I even gave my exams the normal way with all the normal students.” Russell has a Master's degree in Political Science and now works at CDD as a computer operator, typist and also helps in conducting the teacher training programmes, held to train them in educating and managing disabled students.

Two of the three disabled teenagers (sitting on either side) who were awarded to pursue higher studies

CDD is a non-government organisation in Savar, which works in partnership with the many existing development based organisations to support disabled people. CDD trains the staff members and produces appropriate social communication tools and materials for raising awareness on disability issues in society. CDD is also building their capacities in various additional areas, for instance ICT programmes for visually impaired people, to ensure that all disability groups will be included in mainstream development.

CDD is working with the concept of Community Approaches to Handicap in Development (CAHD) aiming for equality of people with disabilities through integration of disability issues into the mainstream development activities. CAHD, and the processes necessary to implement it, are designed to be included in the ongoing activities of existing organisations and systems.

Recently, CDD celebrated a decade of its success, marked by a three-day conference where at least 400 workers from NGOs from all over the country signed up for training programmes and also sessions where everyone shared their experiences of working with the disabled and identified areas of need for future work in creating a barrier-free environment for the disabled.

Visually challenged Md. Nazrul Islam receiving an award from Shoab Siddiqui, the Interim country director of Action Aid Bangladesh

The CAHD Conference guests included chief guest Vice Chancellor of Jahangirnagar University Professor Khandakar Mustahidur Rahman; special guests Australian High Comissiner Doughlas Foskett, Chairman of News Today AKM Samsuddin, Mostafa Jabbar from Information and Communication, Shoab Siddiqui, Interim Country Director of Action Aid and Monsur Ahmed Choudhuri, the Chairperson of CDD, Deb Dulal Saha, the Conference Coordinator and AHM Noman Khan, Executive Director of CDD.

According to CDD reports, about 5.6% of the 144 million people living in the country are disabled and at least 98% do not have any rehabilitation services. “Our objective is to gain equal opportunities and full participation for people with disabilities in every sphere of life,” says Rakhi Barua, assistant programme at coordinator CDD.

CDD commemorated its 10th anniversary on November 27, by awarding nine exceptional people, caregivers and people with disabilities. They had overcome their challenges, including a lack of services, education and employment, not to mention the negative attitude in the society and financial constraints.

The nine awardees were awarded based on their strengths in breaking these barriers and moving ahead. They were all presented with a crest and a sum of money so as to enable them further in their self-employed businesses. Some of the awardees were van owners, rickshaw pullers or tong owners. Some were women looking after their children and grandchildren. CDD also awarded three teenagers in the area of education.

Born with no arms, Russell still carries on in life as normally as the person next door, by using his legs and toes

According to Monsur Ahmed Choudhuri, the real work is done by the staff and the workers at CDD. "My presence is just symbolic here," he says. Being visually impaired himself, Choudhuri says that disability is not a disease or to be looked down upon. "To create absolute equality in society," he adds. "Disabled people should have access everywhere in society. For instance, at the voting booths, there is no way that a visually impaired person will know how to vote. Usually, someone at the booth helps the visually impaired person to do this, due to which sometimes the visually impaired people are tricked into voting for a different option all together. In the upcoming elections, the authority must do something, which will enable disabled people to make their own choices in the proper way." He goes on to say that disabled people have to think twice before entering an office building because of no ramp for the disabled in wheelchairs. "The last two governments had promised at least 20 crore taka to spend on the development of the disabled and also to bring about an awareness in society about disability," he says. "However, they hardly spent 2 crore. For three years they worked on forming several committees and working on the disability issue, but in vain. The situation is so intense at the moment that there might come a time when we, the disabled, will get together and protest on the street."

A staff worker of CDD interpreting the speeches at the conference to the hearing impaired people

Upon entering the establishment, located in the cantonment area of Savar, the serene atmosphere comes alive with a frenzy of activities. Several disabled people are seen working shoulder to shoulder, running the development and training programmes at CDD. Some move around in wheelchairs while others walk around with the help of walking sticks. These people working together along with the 'normal' ones have broken down the superstitions and stigma surrounding disabled people. They work towards a more inclusive country where the disabled have equal opportunities and enjoy life in general.

Mostafa Jabbar says that he has been working closely with many of the disabled people at CDD and finds them extremely bright. He also says that technology can be used to make their lives easier. "For instance," he says, "Most of these disabled people have to go through physiotherapy, for which they have to move around from one place to another. These exercises can be formatted on a CD, which the disabled can operate and work on the basic exercises at home. In fact, a team is working on a Bijoy software programme, which can be used by all kinds of disabled people for reading, typing and comprehending the basic computer skills."

"Disability is not a burden," says AHM Noman Khan, the executive director of CDD. "Awareness is building up, but is very slow. Disabled people have dreams which they would want to fulfil like everyone else, to work, to sustain a future and to exist side by side with others. All they need is the proper environment to work in, the resources enabling them to move around and have access to lead a normal life."



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