Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Last Updated: 21 May 18:55 PM IST
9 December 2012
The first ever Community Based Rehabilitation World Congress in Agra saw 192 people with different forms of disability among 1,300 delegates from 86 different countries bent on ensuring their inclusion in mainstream society. deepak parvatiyar reports
FORTY-SIX-YEAR-OLD Tom shares his surname with the greatest English poet and playwright, William Shakespeare. Understandably, he takes pride in flaunting this “connection” because, like William, he too is British and, to top it all, this sociologist has published works under his belt.
Unlike the great “Bard of Avon”, though, Tom (Sir Thomas William Shakespeare) is not a literary figure but what he possesses is something that might have made even William Shakespeare proud. It is not just his steely resolve to contest his dwarfism and paralysed spinal cord that has confined him to a wheelchair since 2008, but his mission to create awareness on the various facets of disabilities across the globe.
“Now I often travel to different countries to advise governments on the issue of disability,” he said on the sidelines of the first ever Community Based Rehabilitation World Congress, held in the city of the Taj Mahal between 26-28 November.
The Congress called for greater coordination between governments and more participation by all sections of the population for the empowerment of people with disabilities. It was jointly sponsored by the World Health Organisation, Australian Aid, the United States Agency for International Development, CBM and Sightsavers. CBR is the strategy initiated and promoted by the World Health Organisation for a cross-sectoral, human rights-based approach to inclusive development.
This approach for community development is targeting and involving people with disabilities, their families and their organisations as primary stakeholders. It seeks to ensure that all individuals are supported in their own communities, enjoy equal rights and opportunities as other members in society.
Tom was an important member of the Who delegation at the three-day Congress. He has been working for the Who in Geneva since 2007 as a technical officer in the disability and rehabilitation team and had made a major contribution to the first ever world report on disability that was jointly brought out by the Who and the World Bank on 9 June 2011.
Born with dwarfism, his disability had made his parents “slightly sad”. But they gave him all support and he went on to do his doctorate from Harvard University on “Conceptualising Disability” – how this malady is affected by social environment. “Understanding disability requires a multi-dimensional approach that includes healthcare, attitude and political and legal rights,” he said.
The main objective of the CBR World Congress was to promote CBR as a global strategy “to realise the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”. As a researcher, Tom hoped it would help him monitor and evaluate the project on the ground. “Let’s find out what is the best thing for people with disabilities and let’s make sure it reaches more people,” he said, adding that he expected the Agra meet to be very useful for CBR workers to learn from each other.
“This is the first time that we have come together.” He pointed to the 192 people with different forms of disability among the 1,300 delegates from 86 different countries and said their presence would help develop/strengthen CBR as a key for realising UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities goals to ensure the rights of the disabled and their inclusion in mainstream society.
“CBR is very crucial because all the resources and opportunities are at the community level. What is needed is inclusion, which at present is not happening at all,” said Ram Nathan, a 37-year-old polio victim. Like Tom, he is also confined to a wheelchair but is full of life and vigour. He is the president of the Karnataka State Disability Network and joint secretary of the CBR India network. “You cannot create institutions such as residential schools for the disabled, homes everywhere, and this is restrictive. Community is where one lives,” he said.
“Definitely the World Congress will set a milestone,” said Alana Officer, coordinator, Disability and Rehabilitation, Who. She had valid reason for her confidence. “India has an incredible history in CBR. Thirty years ago, it was the first country to organise CBR.”
Obviously this reason ensured that India would be the venue of the first World Congress on CBR. As Poonam Natarajan, chairperson, National Trust, government of India aptly summed up, “It’s truly a historic occasion and reflective of India’s huge experience in CBR.”
The writer is a senior journalist and documentary film maker
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