WHAT are the causes of disability?
This is a question that even disabled people will give contradicting answers to.
It was the same question 17 participants from six countries including Malaysia, repeatedly pondered over at a two-week Disability Equality Training (DET) course held in Kuala Lumpur recently.
The course also saw four trainers returning for their senior trainer’s certification, and another four persons, including myself, undergoing our final assignment to become trainer of TOT (Training of Trainers). Essentially, it was three intensive courses running simultaneously.
Most of the participants found it tough going as it stretched their beliefs and analytical capacities to the hilt. By the end of each day, they were mentally and physically drained.
They discovered that their ideas about disability were profoundly different from what was being presented. It was a confusing time for them as they dissected the new paradigm, trying to make sense of the paradox of what they have accepted all their lives with what they had just learnt.
The participants also took up leadership roles as facilitators during group exercises, and picked up presentation and delivery skills that are necessary for conducting workshops more effectively.
It was not easy for the trainers too as the participants’ learning was our responsibility. If they did not gain sufficient knowledge and skills at the end of the course, it would be our failure.
Despite the strenuous demands placed upon them, the transformation of the participants as the course progressed was noticeable. Those who were quiet in the beginning became more confident in sharing their opinions.
Confidence is a crucial attribute for trainers. Those who speak without conviction will very quickly lose the attention of their audience. Even more important is the understanding of disability and the ability to make participants of DET workshops discover the causes of disability and take proactive actions to remove them.
That was why the course was structured to give each and every participant ample opportunities to build their confidence and seriously reflect on the relationship between the difficulties they face in society and themselves.
“I gained a lot of knowledge and I feel that I have grown as a person,” Siriporn Praserdchat shared about how she had benefited from the course. She is the logistics officer at the Asia-Pacific Development Center on Disability based in Bangkok.
Kiran Shilpakar, president of the National Association of Physically Disabled-Nepal, was in Malaysia in 2010 to attend DET. He was here again to become a senior trainer. He said, “This senior trainer course enhanced my understanding of the Social Model of Disability, which will greatly help me in my future workshops.”
Fellow trainer of TOT Fariz Abdul Rani from Sabah and I have been working together on DET since 2013. We frequently discuss how we could make the workshops we conduct more effective.
When I asked for his thoughts about the course, this was what he had to say: “I am glad that finally the four of us are officially trainer of TOT. It was not easy to go through what we went through to reach this level. We are currently the only four trainers who can conduct such courses.
“I am excitedly waiting for the DET Forum webpage to be set up so that all the trainers from various parts of the world can share, discuss and support each other.”
The DET Forum is registered as a non-profit organisation in Japan. Membership is also open to DET trainers from other countries. The website is developed and managed by participants of DET TOT to exchange resources, information and experience about DET in their respective countries.
Our journey to become trainer of TOT took two years. The first year was spent preparing to conduct the course through a series of online sessions with Dr Kenji Kuno. He is the senior advisor on Social Welfare with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) headquarters in Tokyo. He developed the training modules that we are using now.
Personally, this course has empowered me in more ways than I can count. As I observed the participants struggling to take in more information than their minds could possibly absorb, I am reminded of the time when I first joined the course a decade ago.
I had zero knowledge about disability and no inkling of what I could do to make the world more conducive and less prejudiced against disabled people. DET opened my mind to the possibilities. Ten years on, I have made it a lifelong mission to use the skills and knowledge I gained from DET to break barriers and make society more inclusive. If there is one course that disabled people want to take to empower themselves, I unreservedly recommend TOT of DET course. Incidentally, the just concluded course was the last under the Department of Social Welfare and Jica Project.
The good news is that from next year, the Welfare Department will continue to support the project. At the same time, we will still be working very closely with Dr Kuno to further develop the training modules and continue to promote DET to the Asia Pacific, Latin America, Africa and beyond.
To date, 247 participants from 34 countries have become DET trainers through courses organised in collaboration with Jica since 2005. The numbers will expand further as Dr Kuno together with senior trainers and trainers of TOT will continue to conduct more training courses.
So, back to the question: What are the causes of disability?
Barriers in the environment and the lack of support services restrict disabled people from realising full participation in society. That in turn causes disability. If the surroundings are built without barriers and support services are provided in the name of equality then disability becomes non-existent. At the end of the course, the participants were unanimous that disability is man-made.
People are unnecessarily inconvenienced by how society is designed. Like the other DET trainers before them, these newly-minted trainers have taken up the challenge to make society inclusive with the skills they acquired from the course. And I wish them all the best in that endeavour.
Comments can reach the writer via [email protected].