For many years, people with disabilities (PwDs) have endured the burden of stigma and discrimination within their families and society, a lingering curse of the past. Family members have often felt hesitant to acknowledge the presence of disability within their households, resulting in years of confinement for individuals with disabilities. Furthermore, these individuals face numerous barriers in their daily lives, such as limited access to public services, the need to overcome violence and discrimination, and hindrance to efforts to be a part of society with dignity. 

The Disabled Empowerment and Communication Center (DEC) Nepal has worked hard to bring about a change in the prevailing attitudes to and narratives surrounding PwDs, from being objects of pity ( Daya ko Patra) to becoming empowered individuals who can now confidently claim the rights they are entitled to by law. The Alliance for Social Dialogue (ASD) and Open Society Foundations (OSF) have supported DEC Nepal since 2010.

DEC Nepal has established 84 Self-help Groups (SHGs) in two districts, namely Banke and Dang, with 924 members to work towards overcoming the challenges faced by the PwD community. The SHG groups employ a three-phase approach to diagnose and tackle these issues effectively. First, they identify the problems faced by PwDs and marginalized communities, then find viable solutions, and finally assess the outcomes and impact of the implemented solutions.

PwDs face several difficulties in accessing social security allowances and obtaining essential legal identity documents such as disability cards, citizenship certificates, voter registrations, and birth registrations. Additionally, the participation of PwDs in the budget planning processes of the local government has been minimal, with limited engagement from the authorities.

The SHGs focus on expanding the participation of PwDs in local government meetings. Recognizing the importance of inclusive planning, the local authorities extended invitations to individuals with disabilities, seeking their feedback on local initiatives. As a result of these dialogues, the local governments of Bijanath and Nepalgunj allocated funds to create accessible infrastructure at the local level and made the education policy more inclusive.  DEC has also provided various educational programs focusing on the right to education, healthcare, inclusivity in local-level services, and political participation to give PwDs a voice in civic matters. Furthermore, members of the network have actively assumed leadership roles within the SHGs, as well as in political parties. Some individuals have even gone on to contest local-level elections, further amplifying the voices and representation of people with disabilities in decision-making processes. The SHGs not only assist community members in accessing public services but also empower them to explore livelihood opportunities within the community. Recognizing the importance of SHGs in supporting PwDs, the local government has even appointed volunteers in Naubasta, Banke.

The Bankatwa Primary Health Center in Baijnath Rural Municipality serves a significant number of people daily but lacks accessible infrastructure for individuals with disabilities. Pregnant women, senior citizens, wheelchair users, the visually impaired, and others face challenges accessing clean water, handwashing facilities, and disability-friendly toilets. 

Recognizing these issues, the self-help group (SHG) members engaged in continuous dialogue with the health center’s service providers and supervisors. As a result of these efforts, significant improvements were made to the health center. A public audit was conducted, leading to the renovation of toilets, restoration of clean drinking water, and construction of ramps. These enhancements have transformed the health center into a disability-friendly and model facility, benefiting approximately 100 to 150 daily service seekers.

Dhansari Tharu, 29, a PwD, received support from the SHGs to undergo sewing and cutting training. She subsequently established her own tailoring shop, sustaining herself and her family through this endeavor. Dhansari also dedicates time to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities at the community level.

Mr. Tek Bahadur Rana, 27, who lost one of his legs in an accident while returning from India as a migrant worker, felt excluded within his family and society. However, SHG members counseled and provided him with a tricycle to move around. He eventually opened a grocery shop and now earns a decent livelihood and lives with dignity.

Photo credit: Devidatta Acharya


Leaders of Change

Over the past 15 years, the SHGs have fostered leadership development among community members. This is evidenced by their candidacies in local and federal level elections. The executive director of the SHGs, Mr. Devidatta Acharya, was elected to the national federation of PwDs. These achievements highlight the collaborative and supportive nature of the community in promoting rights and preserving the dignity of each individual.

Som Niroula
Program Manager, Economic Justice and Expression at Purak Asia

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