Disabled People's Development Projects

This booklet is presented to create an increasing awareness of disabled persons in the development process for both the disabled persons community and non-governmental organizations involved in international development. Internet publication URL: www.independentliving.org/docs1/dispeopleintldev3.html

"In practice the Self-Help Factory does address the issues of powerlessness and isolation. This is because it is entirely run by disabled people who get access to managerial experience and who develop their negotiating skills in the course of running the business."
Friday Mavuso, Soweto

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Project Projimo:

A Program For and By Disabled People

by David Werner


My main interest is in innovative community program where disabled persons themselves or members of their families take the lead in management, provision of services and decision making. My interest in program that are run by and help empower disabled persons comes from my own personal bias, for I, myself, have a physical disability.

PROJIMO is a Spanish word for 'neighbour'. But it also stands for Program of Rehabilitation Organized by Disabled Youth of Western Mexico. PROJIMO is a rural program run by disabled villagers to serve disabled children and their families. It was started in 1982 by disabled village health workers from an older community-based health program, Project Piaxtla, now in its 23rd year. In the early years of Piaxtla some of the health workers selected by their villagers happened to be disabled. As the years passed, some of these disabled persons proved to be among the best health workers. Perhaps this was because participation in the health work had brought them from a marginal to a central position in their community. For whatever reasons, they tended to work with greater compassion and commitment than most of the able-bodied workers. In time, some of the disabled health workers became leaders in the primary care program.

The disabled health workers became increasingly concerned that they knew very little about meeting the needs of disabled people, especially children. Adding to their problem, the prices in the cities for braces or calipers, wheelchairs, therapy and other necessities for disabled persons, were often too high for the villagers to afford. The cost to get a child with polio walking could economically ruin the child's extended family. The orthopedic devices made by specialists in the cities also tended to be elaborate and heavy. They were usually fitted onto big boots that made the child feel out of place in her village. Surely, thought the health workers, there must be more simple, low-cost alternatives. Five years ago the health workers met with the other villagers of Ajoya to ask for community support to start a rural program for disabled children. The villagers responded enthusiastically and PROJIMO began.

Over the next few years, adventurous rehabilitation specialists with a sense of innovation and community commitment--including physical and occupational therapists, brace makers, limb makers, wheelchair makers and special educators--made short volunteer visits to the program to help teach their skills to the village health workers. As appropriate methods and skills were tried, they were drafted into a series of simple and clear guidelines, experimental instruction sheets, and handouts for families. These were tested and corrected over and over again, until finally they were put together to form the reference manual, Disabled Village Children. Today, among a wide range of rehabilitation services including physical therapy and correcting club feet and contractures, the disabled team makes low-cost lightweight braces, wheelchairs and artificial limbs at about one-tenth the cost of less appropriate models made in the cities. Word of the village program has spread and disabled children have been brought to the program from 10 states in Mexico. More than half come from the slums of the cities. In a village of 850 people, PROJIMO has helped meet needs of over 1,500 disabled persons, mostly children and their families.

PROJIMO differs from many rehabilitation programs in a number of ways:

  • Community control. Unlike many "community-based" programs, which are designed and run by outsiders, PROJIMO is run and controlled by local disabled villagers.
  • De-professionalization. The village team, although they have mastered many "professions" skills, is made up of disabled persons with an average education of only three years of primary school. Their training has been mostly of the non-formal, learn-by-doing type. There are no titled professionals on the PROJIMO staff. Rehabilitation professionals are invited for short visits to teach rather than to practice their skills.
  • Equality between service providers and receivers. When asked how many "workers" they have, the PROJIMO team has no easy answer. This is because there is no clear line between those who provide services and those who receive them. Visiting disabled young persons and their families are invited to help in whatever way then can. Most of the PROJIMO workers first came for rehabilitation themselves. They began to help in different ways, decided to stay and gradually became team members and leaders.
  • Self-government through group process. The PROJIMO team has been trying to develop an approach to planning, organization, and decision-making in which all participants take part. They are trying to free themselves from the typical "boss-servant" work relationship and form more of a "work partnership". The group elects its co-ordinators on a one-month rotating basis so that everyone has a turn. This leads to a lot of inefficiency and confusion, but to a much more democratic group process.
  • Modest earnings. The PROJIMO team believes that they should work for the same low pay as that of the farming and laboring families they serve. They can see that the high pay demanded by professionals and technicians is one reason that the children of the poor often cannot get the therapy and aids they need.
  • Grassroots multiplying effect. The PROJIMO approach has been spreading in various ways. Locally, families of disabled children in a number of towns and villages have begun to organize, build playgrounds, and form their own special education programs in other parts of Mexico and Latin America to visit and take ideas back to them. Some programs have sent disabled representatives to work and learn at PROJIMO for several months so they can start similar programs in their own area.
  • Unity with all who are marginalized. The PROJIMO team sees society's unfair attitudes towards disabled people as only one aspect of an unjust social structure. They feel that disabled persons should join in solidarity with all who are rejected, misjudged, exploited or not treated as equals. This feeling has led the team to become more self-critical and to seek greater equality for women within their own group.


David Werner is Director of the Hesperian Foundation.

This article is reprinted from Community Based Rehabilitation News, April 1990.


Multi-Million Dollar Hatchery For Guyana

by Julie Lewis


Disabled people of Guyana have placed their feet on yet another rung of the ladder which leads to ultimate attainment of economic, social and psychological independence, development, and well-being.

This has happened with the commissioning recently of a multi-million dollar hatchery undertaken by the Guyana Coalition of Citizens with Disability (GCCD), with assistance from several funding agencies and organizations.

The hatchery project aims to provide honest employment for disabled persons by producing baby chicks and selling them to persons with disabilities to rear, thus enabling them to earn a living for themselves and their families in the first instance, and secondly to make a tangible contribution to the society as a whole.

The project is being managed by Diverse Industries for Citizens with Disabilities (DICD), the business arm of the GCCD. The board of directors of the company comprises four Rotarians and three members of the GCCD, two of whom are disabled. It is expected that gradually, more disabled persons will be appointed to the board.


Funding for the project came from two Rotary Clubs in Georgetown, Guyana through their affiliates in North America; the Manitoba League of the Physically Handicapped, with which organization GCCD is twinned; the British High Commission in Guyana, Action on Development for the Disabled (ADD) in England; Disabled Peoples' International and others.

Julie Lewis is a member of the Guyana Coalition of Citizens with Disability (GCCD).

This article originally appeared in Conquest 2 (April - June, 1990), p. 5.


Soweto's Self-Help Factory: An Empowerment Lesson

by April D'Aubin


The majority of disabled South Africans face double discrimination: disability-based discrimination and racism.

"As a result of the combined affects of these two sources of discrimination, black disabled people in South Africa know only poverty and powerlessness. They are truly the poorest of the poor," explained Friday Mavuso of the Self-Help Association of Paraplegics, Soweto, (SHAP) at a Disabled Peoples' International (DPI) Independent Living Symposium which took place in Finland in 1990.

Mavuso and other disabled activists, under the auspices of SHAP, established Soweto's Self-Help Factory in 1983 to address the dual problems of poverty and powerlessness experienced by people with disabilities. The Self-Help Factory, a business development project managed and staffed by disabled people, combines the principles of self-help and business development.

A SHAP needs survey indicated that disabled people were living difficult lives, exacerbated by the lack of access to wheelchairs, transport, housing, employment, and income security. "The members told us that if they had access to work and money, then this would help them to solve other problems in their lives," reported Mavuso.

Originally SHAP attempted to find employment for its members in Johannesburg. "We did not want to further isolate disabled people from the general community," explained Mavuso. The lack of accessible transportation made this option unworkable. It became obvious that employment for disabled people in the Soweto township was what was needed.

In 1989 a second factory opened, and now 150 disabled people are employed, doing various tasks ranging from simple packaging to sophisticated electronic repairs. The Self-Help Factory's clients include: Gold Fields of South Africa, Carlton Paper, Hewlett Packard, various camera importers.

The Factory pays its workers wages commensurate to those of other employers, so those disabled people employed by the Self-Help Factory do not have to subsist on meagre government pensions. The Self-Help Factory stands in sharp contrast to North America's sheltered workshop system, which exploits disabled people's labour and maintains their poverty with a continued reliance upon welfare.

"In practice, the Self-Help Factory does address the issues of powerlessness and isolation. This is because it is entirely run by disabled people who get access to managerial experience and who develop their negotiating skills in the course of running the business," explained Mavuso.

Consumer goods are not the only product generated by the Self-Help Factory. Activists for the disability rights movement are an important by-product of SHAP's business initiative. Mavuso explained, "People who travel and work together also start discussing issues of mutual concern. In this way, disabled people in the project become conscientized in disability issues. By being in control of our project, this also gives us access to telephones and typewriters. In this way we are able to become spokespeople on disability issues."

SHAP and the Self-Help Factory have received extensive media attention in South Africa. This has inspired other disabled people to develop similar self-help projects and to organize Disabled People South Africa, which has a membership of about 10,000.

Disabled People South Africa is working to ensure that disability is on the political agenda as South Africa draws closer to ending apartheid.

SHAP's self-help and development philosophy is having an impact at the political level, as well as the personal level: individuals are being empowered and society is being affected by disabled people's advocacy.

For more information on SHAP click here


International Solidarity


"Our people can be found
In every class and race
Of every age and nation
Our people are awakening.
We will not beg
We will not hide
We'll come together
To regain our pride."

Micheline Mason, United Kingdom


COPOH's International Involvements

by Diane Driedger


Disabled people are the poorest of the poor around the world. And 80 percent of the World's disabled persons live in the developing regions. There are also organizations of disabled people in over 70 countries. In recognition of these realities, the Coalition of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped (COPOH) embarked upon its international program in 1985.

COPOH has been involved internationally through Disabled Peoples' International (DPI) since 1980. COPOH was one of the founders of the international coalition and one of its members, Henry Enns has served as Deputy Chair and Chair over the last decade. Thus, COPOH has its interest in international solidarity and it established an international committee for this work. COPOH decided to formalize its solidarity through twinning projects, international exchanges and development education about disability issues.


Since 1985, three COPOH affiliates have twinned, or formed partnerships, with organizations of disabled persons in other countries. Kingston, Ontario is twinned with Kingston, Jamaica; Manitoba is twinned with Guyana; and Saskatchewan is twinned with Nicaragua. These organizations have had exchanges, and provided expertise to each other in areas such as income generating and independent living. Both the partner in Canada and in the developing country have found the exchange of information and solidarity for disabled persons valuable. Indeed, COPOH has discovered that disability is a unifying force; there exist attitudinal and physical barriers to disabled persons' participation world over.

International Projects

In 1987, COPOH initiated projects with disabled persons' organizations overseas, through the Institutional Cooperation and Development Division (ICDS) of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). To date, COPOH has carried out projects in El Salvador, Guyana, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Trinidad and Tobago, and Dominica. In all of these projects, COPOH consultants (disabled persons) travelled to the countries during the implementation of the project. These projects have centered around independent living as was the case in Jamaica, organization-building as was done in Guyana, Women's Literacy as was the case in El Salvador, and public awareness as has been carried out in Nicaragua.

In all cases, the projects were designed by the local organization and COPOH applied for funds and offered its expertise and moral support. COPOH sees itself as being in solidarity with its partners.

Development Education

COPOH started its development education program in 1985 with grants from the CIDA Public Participation Program. Initially, COPOH focused on educating the disabled persons' community about the issues facing developing world disabled people. This effort was successful in three twinning relationships being established. These initial efforts expanded into educating the NGO international community as well about the needs and concerns of disabled persons in the developing regions. COPOH hopes to have increasing contact with other NGO's to discuss disability issues and possible collaboration. If your organization has projects with disabled people, COPOH would appreciate hearing about them. Or, if you would like to discuss your organization's potential projects with disabled persons, COPOH is open to hearing about them. COPOH's address is: 926-294 Portage Ave., Winnipeg, MB, R3C 0B9 Tel: (204) 947-0303, FAX: (204) 942-4625.


Disabled Peoples' International

by Diane Driedger


"Disabled people of the world--join us in our struggle. Join us in our struggle for full participation and equalization of opportunity". (DPI Singapore Declaration, 1981). Indeed, Disabled Peoples' International (DPI), an organization of people with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities, wants justice, not charity.

DPI has obtained consultative status with the United Nations, International Labor Organization, and UNESCO. It has been successful in airing human rights violations against disabled people at the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Perhaps most important, DPI has shown the world that people with disabilities are able to represent themselves effectively at the international level. DPI has been the catalyst for the building of organizations of disabled people in 100 countries around the world in the last 5 years.

DPI was officially born in December 1981 in Singapore. Four hundred disabled people from 51 countries attended the first DPI Congress.

The Constitution and Manifesto accepted in Singapore asserted the basic rights of disabled people as participants in society like everyone else: the right to education, rehabilitation, employment, independent living, and income security. The Manifesto also declared that disabled persons have the right to influence governments and decision-making processes through their own organizations. By the end of the Congress a new World Council was elected for DPI with 25 people, five from each of five regions of the world. This governing body would meet once a year in the next 5 years. To be a full member of DPI, an organization must be national, and the majority of decision-making positions must be filled with disabled persons.

National organizations are involved in a variety of issues. They lobby their governments for increased access to public buildings, employment opportunities, public schools, and transportation. Although all these issues are important, perhaps transportation is most fundamental. The ability to live independently depends on whether one can leave home for work and recreation. If there is no affordable or accessible transportation for many people who are mobility-impaired, they will have difficulty finding and holding a job. In many North American and European countries, governments fund public transportation, such as bus travel, for disabled passengers. In these systems disabled people usually pay the same fare as non-disabled bus riders.

In developing nations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, a pressing issue for mobility-impaired people is the lack of wheelchairs, crutches, and prostheses. Without these aids, people with a physical disability crawl, scoot on leather or bamboo mats, or remain bedridden in parental homes. Because of this, many disabled peoples' self-help organizations are initiating wheelchair factories operated by people with disabilities themselves, with local materials used to produce wheelchairs designed for the local terrain.

Not only have these organizations addressed the wheelchair shortage, they have started self-employment projects. In Jamaica the Combined Disabilities Association has run a wood products factory since 1983. It is an integrated factory in which half of the employees are disabled and the other half are non-disabled. In Zimbabwe, the National Council of Disabled Persons has started small animal and vegetable farming cooperatives.

DPI's "Self-Help Leadership Training" seminars enable disabled people who are experienced leaders and organizers in their countries to share their expertise in forming disabled peoples' groups and in lobbying governments for changes. Self-help organizations are a vehicle for disabled persons to speak collectively to governments, society, and service providers for improved job opportunities, accessible public buildings and transportation, and education. After a 2-week seminar, newly-trained leaders return to their countries equipped with tools to organize and build their own groups.

In addition to conducting a development program, DPI has addressed international issues. DPI helped shape the United Nations World Program of Action Concerning Disabled Persons and the International Labor Organization's Vocational Rehabilitation Convention. In both cases, DPI was successful in incorporating key elements of DPI philosophy into these documents. Most important, the documents assert that disabled peoples' organizations should be consulted on policies that relate to disabled persons.

DPI was successful as well in bringing human rights violations against disabled people to the attention of the UN Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. DPI was successful in appointing a Special Rapporteur, or reporter, on the status of disabled peoples' rights.

Disabled persons' rights as human beings are violated in wars and armed conflict every day around the globe. Thus, peace is a disability issue for DPI. It called for peace in its International Peace Declaration, issued after the DPI World Council visited Hiroshima, Japan, the site of the first atom bomb blast: "The creation of disability and the ending of life by the waging of war gains pace... Let us insist that the $600 billion now spent on armaments is diverted to socially useful projects."

DPI, as an organization purporting to represent all the world's disabled people, recognizes the need to increase the representation of certain disability groups. Persons who are deaf and mentally handicapped must be represented more equally. In 1985, DPI resolved to involve more women in its leadership. DPI's goal is to increase the participation and representation of women to 50 percent at all levels of the organization in the coming years.

The participation of all disabled people will strengthen self-help organizations worldwide. All over the world disabled people are organizing to speak for themselves with, in the words of DPI's motto, "A Voice of Our Own."

This article originally appeared in Rehabilitation Gazette 28 (1987), pp. 13-14.


Additional Resources

    • Community Based Rehabilitation News, AHRTAG, 1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9SG, UK.
    • COMPASS, Magazine of the Coalition Of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped (COPOH), 926-294 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, MB, R3C 0B9, Canada.
    • Conquest, Newsmagazine of the Disabled Peoples' International North American/Caribbean Region, P.O. Box 220, Liguanea, Kingston 6, Jamaica.
    • COPOH, "Disabled People Unite", slideset 1985, available from COPOH.
    • COPOH, "Disability is a Peace Issue", 1985, available from COPOH.
    • COPOH, Twinning with an Affiliate of Disabled Peoples' International North American/Caribbean Region, Latin American Region, Winnipeg, COPOH, 1987. (In both French and English).
    • Disability Frontline, quarterly newsletter of the Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled (SAFOD), P.O. Box 2247, Bulawayo Zimbabwe.
    • Driedger, Diane, ed. Aim At The Sky: Report of the Disabled Peoples' International North American and Caribbean Region, Disabled Women in Development Seminar, Roseau, Dominica, July 18-22, 1988. Kingston, Jamaica: DPI North American and Caribbean Regional Secretariat, 1989.
    • Driedger, Diane, The Last Civil Rights Movement: Disabled Peoples' International. London and New York: Hurst and Co. and St. Martin's Press, 1989.
    • Driedger, Diane, ed. The Winds of Change: Partners in Development, Proceedings of the Disabled Peoples' International (DPI) International Symposium on Development, 1-5 October 1984, Kingston, Jamaica. Winnipeg: DPI (Canada), 1985.
    • Driedger, Diane; Enns, Henry; and Regehr, Valerie, Development and Disability, MCC Occasional Paper, No. 9, Akron: Mennonite Central Committee, 1989.
    • Gajerski-Cauley, Anne, ed. Women Development and Disability. Winnipeg: COPOH, 1989.
    • The Hesperian Foundation. Project Projimo, A Villager-run Rehabilitation Program For Disabled Children in Western Mexico. Palo Alto: The Hesperian Foundation, Ca. 1984.
    • Heath, Jeff, ed. Developing Leaders: Report of Disabled Peoples' International Leadership Training Course, Adelaide, 1984. Adelaide: DPI (Australia), 1984.
    • La Voz, newspaper of the Disabled Peoples' International Latin American Region, Camino Carrasco 4680 A. Torre 1 apartamento 701 Montevideo, Uruguay.
    • Miller, Kathleen S.; Chadderdon, Linda M.; and Duncan, Barbara., eds. Participation of People with Disabilities: International Perspectives. East Lansing: University Centre for International Rehabilitation, Michigan State University, 1982.
    • Oka, Yukiko, ed. The Engines Are Ready, Let's Go! Report of DPI Asia/Pacific Leadership Training Seminar, April 20-24, 1983. Tokyo: DPI Asia/Pacific Regional Council, 1983.
    • Vox Nostra, international newsletter of Disabled Peoples' International, 101-7 Evergreen, Winnipeg, MB R3L 2T3, Canada.