A collective voice for the disabled

By Thushara Kulatunga

The Disability Organisations Joint Front (DOJF) launched their first report in Sri Lanka bringing together the views of disabled people from all over the country and a strategy that they hope will set the direction for improving their lives over the next ten years so that they can take their rightful place in society.

The report was launched on the International Day of Disabled People, December 8. DOJF is the first umbrella body for disability organisations in Sri Lanka, currently consisting of 22 member organisations, and aiming to enable disability organisations to work together as a pressure group to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

The "Disabled Persons' Organisations Programme strategy" was put together by gathering opinions and information from disabled persons through nine Provincial workshops organised through district Social Services Officers. Other organisations involved were SHIA (Swedish Organisations of Disabled Persons International), PASS Research and Consultancy (Pvt) Ltd and the Ministry of Social Services and Social Welfare which were responsible for funding, conducting the research and overall facilitation of the process respectively.

Some of the issues the report stresses are the lack of special services for disabled children even in mainstream schools, low quality vocational training, and the lack of the most basic education in skills development for children with intellectual disabilities.

Sri Lanka has an estimated 900,000 people with disabilities according to a research study conducted by the Ministry of Social Services and Social Welfare and of this number, it is estimated that only 2% have access to education and basic services.

The report also highlights the barriers to achieving rights for disabled people such as lack of access to buildings (workplaces, educational institutions) for wheelchair users and people with other mobility disabilities; cultural barriers such as superstitious beliefs that stigmatise disabled people and their families; also the negative stereotyping of disabled people that results in them not being able to make use of the opportunities available to them.

There were inspiring personal accounts of how they worked to overcome those disabilities as well as performances by educational institutes for children with disabilities. Members of the DOJF spoke of their vision of a society in which disabled persons are fully aware of their rights and motivated to achieving them.

The strategy is set to be put in motion in 2010 with DOJF as the coordinating organisation with the support of Swedish donors.

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