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The abilities of those living with disabilities

Couple of weeks ago, I returned from Japan, attending a course on Capacity Development of Leaders with Disabilities for UNCRPD (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) Implementation from September 28 to November 8, 2017.

We were a group of eight, from different cultures of different countries, yet sharing similar lifestyles of the fact that we are persons with disabilities.

“If we are to take the privilege of technologies for persons with disabilities, either one must be born in a rich family or must have a strong organization to support us. However, the reality is that most persons with disabilities come from poverty-stricken families,” remarked a participant from Colombia.

During our six weeks stay in Japan, we had the opportunity to a wide range of experiences, from the rich lectures of political, historical and cultural changes for persons with disabilities, to warm hospitable management of independent living centres—run by persons with disabilities, accessible transportation experiences, visit to home groups for mentally and intellectually disabled,  schools and other important areas- that would have never been possible in developing nations.

We once visited a home for the mentally challenged persons. There were nurses, caregivers who were bathing, changing diapers, feeding, or dressing persons with disabilities. We also had the opportunity to visit restaurants and shelter workshops run by persons with disabilities.

“What work do the intellectually disabled people do in your country?” asked one of the coordinators.

“Nothing,” we all replied. “It is a waste,” she remarked.

Everything seem so accessible. There were tactile tracks that the visually impaired can follow to all public places such as bus stations, railway stations, shopping malls, hospitals.

A blind person can read the railway route, the fare, get a ticket for his destination and board the train.

I was once getting a drink from a vending machine. A friend from South Africa wished to film as I was operating. “This is not possible for the blind in my country and my blind friends must watch,” he said.

The laundry machines, microwave ovens, the flush buttons in toilets are all marked with Braille.

I had a chance to prepare fried rice. My cooking oven labelled with Braille also had audio feedback and warned me to switch off once the rice had been cooked.

What I found most fascinating was that the organizations that cater to persons with disabilities were run by persons with disabilities themselves. One can find a blind principal running the school for the blind, or a deaf person as the president of the Deaf Federation, or a mentally recovered running a home for the mentally disabled.

I had an opportunity to talk to a hearing impaired person. As I spoke in English, my interpreter spoke in Japanese and his interpreter signed to him and his reply went vice versa. At the end, we realized that we can talk to one another. He took my hand and typed Braille on my hand.  I replied typing Braille on his hand.  I realized that this is another means to communicate.

The wheelchair users can travel like any other. The cars they used are modified so as to enable the user to control with hand. There were busses where wheelchair users can travel.

“Thirty years ago, none of us would have ever imagined that the lives of persons with disabilities would reach this status,” remarked one of the senior persons with disability.

Fluency in reading and writing Braille and the skills of using computer was advantageous for me. The course provided knowledge and skills which otherwise would not have been possible to obtain through reading materials. Meeting various international participants and experienced lecturers of Japan was a great blessing and opportunity to interact.

Contributed by Kuenga Chhoegyel

Teacher Muenselling Institute Khaling, Bhutan

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