There are many strategies to take to strengthen the visibility and participation of people with disabilities. In Lao PDR, economic empowerment and income generation through increased access to education, training, or the job market, are common strategies to take. But when combined with efforts to change the way people view disability, we create spaces for people with disabilities to flourish and take leadership positions. Not only in the home but potentially in the markets, within communities, and in public governance spaces.
In 2019, SNV in Lao PDR found that social and cultural attitudes, discrimination, and misconceptions affect men, women, and children with disabilities. Popular myths have also been part of the problem. Disability, as myths go, is caused by bad luck, bad karma from a past life, or by bad spirits. When disability is considered a curse, families tend to keep people with disabilities hidden away from the public.
There are many ways to challenge these perceptions and myths. For SNV, we take a mainstreaming and targeted approach. Our approach is not only informed by the findings of our research; it also listens to the voices of people with disabilities. It is developed in consultation with the Lao Disabled People’s Association (LDPA) and CBM Australia. Our approach is also formulated with government partners. After all, governments must ensure that the country's development programmes reach all.
Because of these partnerships, we had seen some critical shifts in our programming.
Take stock of diversity
When we talk about people with disabilities, we see them as a group of people with different needs and capacities. People with disabilities do not share the same barriers to participation. We must take stock of people’s diversity.
A diversity lens enables us to resource our strategies sufficiently and plan accordingly. Remember, there are many types of disabilities, and not all are visible. We must make sure that our methods are accessible to different people. Read this SNV blog on disability inclusion and diversity.
When we communicate our messages for change, we challenge our creativity. More attention is now being paid in organising role-plays, developing highly visual materials, etc. District facilitators are now using visual tools (videos, posters, and flashcards), storytelling, and other participatory games to make information more accessible for people with different types of disabilities. Check out our COVID-19 prevention information campaign last year.
Sanitation and hygiene demand creation in Savannakhet province
Government-led stakeholder meeting on sanitation and hygiene
We are part of the challenge
Whether we like it or not, some of our ideas and actions reinforce stereotypes and exclusion. We need to check our privilege.
Capacity building of the project team (SNV and government officials) on disability inclusion is conducted through cascaded training and hands-on coaching. Part of this process includes the development of social inclusion commitments and action plans. As participants in the development of these plans, we hold ourselves accountable – as individuals and organisations. Every quarter we reflect on our progress and review how we fare in our commitment to inclusion. More on how developing approaches can do no harm here.
Small but encouraging wins
Changing the way we do things has resulted in small but encouraging wins.
Our LDPA partners have taken a more proactive role in WASH planning and promotion activities. They have gained the confidence to facilitate individual interviews and group discussions. A disability facilitator – who lives with a disability himself – has been engaged to facilitate sessions and join door-to-door visits. Village leaders started making a conscious effort to invite people with disabilities in meetings. And, they have begun paying greater attention to the comfort of people with disabilities during meetings.
As a result, we have seen a spike in meeting attendance by people with disabilities. Their increased visibility in meetings suggests that the community is gradually learning; there is no shame or dishonour to have a member with a disability at home.
‘After talking with people from LDPA, I am not shy about my disability and appearance anymore. I will go out more often, I want to join community events, and I want to meet people like me, so we can help each other and we can live better lives.’ – a man with leg paralysis in Phalanxay, July 2020
Photos: Banner - SNV in Lao PDR WASH Advisor with Savannakhet resident (Bart Verweij/SNV) | Photo 2 (Bart Verweij/SNV) | Photo 3 (Silvana Summa/SNV)
For more information, contact Le Huong, WASH Sector Leader, SNV in Lao PDR by email.