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Posted November 1998

Special: Empowering the rural disabled in Asia and the Pacific
Strategies for the rural disabled
From "Case studies: Strategies for the rural disabled in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam" by Johanne Hanko (FAO, 1998). For a copy of the report, contact John Rouse, SDA/FAO (e-mail:

Introduction | Women | Cambodia 1 | Cambodia 2 | Lao PDR | Sri Lanka | Thailand 1 | Thailand 2 | Vietnam 1 | Vietnam 2 | Agroindustry | Horticulture | Strategies

Education and training

Development of human resources, pedagogical action with construction, rehabilitation and school management should be implemented towards literacy and basic education and training. Formal and non-formal education are should be made available to those youngsters with special needs, for those adults who never had the opportunity, and to those newly disabled who require special attention, training, adaptation and rehabilitation.

By using already existing training facilities and programmes, it will be possible to reduce costs for training and be readily operational. Disabled persons as well as non-disabled, have different tastes and preferences. To create centers uniquely for disabled persons means to limit the range of opportunities and consequently, of interest. Although there is a tendency to look at the disability, a closer look should be given to the ability and to the special skill or talent found in each and every disabled person. Mobile courses and training workshops are also a feasible way of reaching those disabled in remote areas of the country. All vocational rehabilitation centers should provide individual assessments for evaluation of personal aptitudes, skills and sectors of interest.

Post training should be emphasized to follow up training sessions. Follow up should also verify the feasibility and usefulness of the activities. Practicality and income generating results are the objective of these sessions. Focus should also be given to the self-gratification and satisfaction of the disabled person involved in the project. Furthermore, refresher courses may enlighten the trainees as to what are the weak points, their strengths and to help them develop new approaches or technologies in their fields of activity. Feed back from the disabled should be given priority attention to help improve or adapt training sessions in the future.

Education is necessary for improved living conditions, however it is not sufficient when it comes to people with disabilities. A person with a disability must learn to cope with society as a whole, as does everybody else, with regard to tradition, culture and creed. This person must also learn to accept and live with their disability, to accept it and to accept the fact that people will see a disabled person rather than a person able to do.

Disabled persons should be involved in all development of training programmes. According to each particular disability, there will be a need to adapt. Who better to advise than the person in the same situation or with the same disability, especially if this person has managed to conquer the problems and worked out solutions and answers to various questions.


The main objective of rehabilitation includes readaptation and reintegration into the community. In cases of the physically disabled, this may include orthopedic and other prosthetic devices that need to be adapted and used. Human resources for such physical rehabilitation are necessary. Professional integration for social adaptation along with access to education, culture and sport facilitate integration of disabled persons. Certain specialized associations may help disabled persons better understand their disabilities and guide them on how to handle difficult situations.

Land Mines and unexploded devices remain a major cause of disabilities. They have become a major political and humanitarian issue. Psychosocial support to groups, families and individuals may be necessary for some persons to help cope with the congenital or accidental disability. Old people, lonely women and other vulnerable members of the society need special attention and support. Invalids of war and children of war are requesting explanations for which there are no answers. Comfort and understanding along with both psychological and physical help are required.

Proper public health care may be the beginning for the reduction of those avoidable diseases and disabilities. Such is the case for polio alleviation.

Income generating activities and employment

As a whole person, self-respect and self-reliance are the key objectives when creating income-generating activities. Local labour demands and needs must be studied so that special training programmes offer a feasible and long-term answer of the employment needs.

Every person has a right to train, to find employment, to work. In Asia, many disabled persons cannot get employment simply because of their disability. They must revert to begging or live from charity. These times are changing and already many countries have recognized the right to equal treatment and opportunity. Although a written law is not necessarily an enforced law, it is a beginning towards social change and integration through full participation of persons with disabilities or rather, for persons with abilities.

Niche markets should be identified so as to reduce competition from already existing demands. One example may be the cultivation of naturally grown fruits and vegetables; grown without chemicals. There is increasing demand for such products. Other possibilities may be in plants offering medicinal properties such as special types of mushroom, or some aromatic plants for the making of essential oils. Markets should be studied, and feasibility studies made. The needs and opportunities will differ from one country to another. Specific country trends can be found in the conclusions of the Mekong country reports.

Integrating disabled persons, using already existing cooperatives, remains the fastest and probably the most feasible way for the disabled to participate in community life. After needs and markets have been studied and identified and training programmes set into place, social awareness and specific adaptations must be made to allow full participation of any disabled person interested in joining the cooperative or labour organization. Marketing strategies need to be developed as to render not only feasible but self-sufficient results of the activities.

Self-employment is one solution however not all people, disabled or not, are capable of conducting business. In the case of the mentally disabled, it is difficult if at all possible, because of their limited intellectual capabilities. They may need someone to guide them and to protect their interest. However, those persons with physical disabilities, may well set up their own business, as could anyone else without any disability. They are no less or more capable of being successful in business.

There are a number of income generating possibilities and alternatives within agriculture, agro-processing and natural resources. Determination of contingencies such as the type of disabilities and abilities must first be determined.

Areas of potential FAO inputs

FAO offers a number of areas of expertise and can contribute to the development of various projects and activities within various sectors of priorities already identified within the FAO schedule. These include poverty alleviation, rural development, sustainable development and food security, all directly related to agriculture, agro-industry and natural resources activities. Following are the various sectors that have been identified in Asia as potentially feasible markets and for which disabled persons have already been involved successfully.

Table: Agriculture, agro-processing and natural resources and other income generating activities
Agriculture Animal husbandry and related activities Forestry, fisheries and natural resources Others
Betel leaves Animal raising Aquaculture Basketry
Caring of plants and flowers Care of buffaloes Broom production Bicycle repair
Corporate plant care Cattle raising Crab farming Clock/watch repair
Crop cultivation Chicken raising Fishing - catfish from river Clothing production
Cut flowers Cow/buffalo raising Frog raising Distribution
Farming Cow raising Handicraft from palm trees Driver
Field crops Duck and chicken rearing Hat making from forest and natural products Electrical repair
Growing plants Duck and chicken rearing for eggs Mussels farming Farm machinery repair
Rattan furniture making Flower making
Growing trees Feeding chickens Shrimp farming Hair dressing / barber
Growing vegetables Livestock Turtles shell less Handicrafts
Gardening (flowers, fruits, vegetables) Otter raising Weaving Incense stick production
Harvesting rice Pig farming Irrigation
Horticulture Pig raising Laundry
Mushroom cultivation Poultry farming Lottery ticket sales
Mushroom growing Quail raising for eggs Marketing
Nurseries. Quails raising Mat weaving
Onion fields Silk worm raising Motorcycle repair
Paddy cultivation Care of buffaloes Music playing
Planting Name card making
Planting vegetables Photocopy service
Plowing Radio repair
Rice farming Selling fruits, vegetables, flowers
Rice planting Sewing
Soybeans culture Trading
Tea plant Tricycle service

Disabled farmers will generally encounter the same basic problems as non-disabled farmers. The major issue is money. In order to initiate any project in agriculture, money is needed to buy raw materials or products such as seeds, fertilizer, insecticides and tools to work. Until the crop is ready to harvest, the farmer must have some kind of sustainability. Then, the products from the harvest must be sold with a reasonable profit to ensure livelihood until the next harvest.

Animal husbandry also offers potential income generation. For animal raising, the problems would be basically the same. Money is needed to buy the animals, food is required to feed them, medication and vaccination are necessary; all this until the animals, whether farm animals or fish, are to be sold as matured "products". These activities may include dairy farming, poultry raising, goat raising, pig raising and many others.

Non-farming activities may be addressed from the household or within sheltered workshops. These include the making of brooms, brushes, weaving mats, making of spoons from coconut shells and some straw hats are just a few examples of a wide range of activities.

Raw materials for all of the above must be supplied and may be needed from non-disabled persons that are often family members.

Other occupations may be the running of small retail shops. These shops may supply food items or products required by farmers such as fertilizer, implements and insecticide.

Many NGOs and some Governments ministries such as the Ministry of Labour and Public Welfare of Thailand, offer start up funds for any project deemed as feasible. The initial capital is used to buy the required raw materials or products.

Resources are needed to operate the above agriculture and farming projects. Apart from the initial compulsory capital, required or suggested resources include: proper training, to find land suitable for the project that will depend on the selected activity, a building to operate, for example in the case of a retail shop.

Since many of these projects are private businesses, an expert businessperson or consultant should be made available to give advice and suggestions on how to optimize the activity. Furthermore, the resource person should closely follow the project until the business becomes self-sustainable. Proper advice is recommendable for all persons whether disabled or not, that are starting in a new business venture.

The selection of income generating activity is crucial for successful business development. Products that are in demand should be selected to insure that they can be sold with a reasonable profit margin. Off-season crops may also be a more profitable activity.

FAO can set up various projects offering expertise and management experience to ensure successful results. The various constraints to be studied before setting up a project can be identified as follows:

Current developments in employment opportunities need to be well identified in order to increase participation of disabled persons in the relevant income generating activities.

Upon request of concerned governments, FAO could provide relevant technical expertise for feasible projects that are in line with local needs and possible solutions. With their specialized know how in the various sectors of agriculture, agro-processing and natural resources, they can assist in the development and implementation of these programmes. This expertise can be used in training and adaptation methodologies required by disabled persons for easier integration and satisfaction by all concerned parties.

Each country will focus on different needs and priorities that should be the starting point to set up a new project. The following are the markets and products that have been identified by the various governments and concerned agencies, as being feasible or in demand. The second column identifies if some disabled persons are known to have been involved in the activity. The last column indicates whether a disabled person could do the work in the identified sector. Obviously, it will all depend on the type of disability. It is possible to see that in all cases, regardless of the sectors, there remains a possibility to hire disabled persons in one job or another. Selected sectors must be identified by government agencies in close collaboration with NGOs, relevant rural organizations and with the private sector in general.

Future action

Rural development remains one of the major concerns for improving living conditions. Sustainable agriculture for food subsistence focussing on crop diversification and animal husbandry are necessary for long term environmental management and higher performance. Marketing of products is a pre-condition for stability of income generation. Rural credit facilities may be required for bridging and project initiation. Special funds may supplement this requirement. Handicraft development activities and resource management education will help future planning while protecting the environment and offer self gratification to the active and successful disabled person. Education and training programmes should be developed in a joint effort for example between FAO and ESCAP, UNESCO and UNEP.

Good advocacy is needed to help disseminate information and defend the rights of all disabled persons. Towards full integration into society, every disabled person should have access to proper education, training and employment. Programmes must be made readily available to the disabled within their own community so as to increase the number of participants. Cooperation with ILO could offer insights on labour opportunities and development programmes. Because of a general lack of precise information on the number of disabled persons, the type of disabilities, where they are located and gender specifications, it is difficult to develop and implement specific programmes. Detailed studies should be made to evaluate those industries and sectors where disabled people can be readily integrated into the work force.

The overall needs in most of the four case studies can be summarized as follows:

FAO plan of action

Information dissemination remains the first step towards change and full participation. Various organizations with which FAO is already in contact and is often already collaborating can be contacted. These include the rural cooperatives, the agriculture cooperatives, the various farmers' organizations, the rural workers organizations, rural women's organizations and youth organizations. Certain countries such as Vietnam have a very active Veterans' association whereas Thailand will also have an active ethnic association. There are numerous rural development organizations that should be contacted, and collaborative programmes should be set up jointly. These programmes should be studied to identify the means and requirements needed, in order to integrate disabled persons into these organizations' already existing programmes. Those cooperatives and associations involved in the training and skill development, are the ones that must tackle the challenge of integrating disabled persons, not only in the programme but also with other rural people who are also participating in the training programmes. Such a project should follow the following steps:
  1. Networking with the various organizations concerned with disabled persons and their welfare will allow exchange of information and experience. Networking may also provide advocacy for support of new farming and rural development projects.

  2. Funding must be sourced through relevant institutions, government and non-government enterprises and various development agencies.

  3. Identification of organizations dealing in skill development and training for rural people The set up of a round table discussion session would allow targeting a greater number of organizations compared to individual meetings. Presentation of disabled people's capabilities and special evaluation tools for identification of abilities should be made available during this round table.

  4. Areas of interest should be those of the rural organization so as to better answer the local needs. These may be selected in line with the policies and trends of the FAO for the year 1998 such as a programme involving "Food Security" in the rural sector while answering local governmental needs and interest.

  5. Adaptation of the physical environment may be required for the organization to be able to accept disabled persons. Recommendations and supervision may be required.

  6. Disabled persons should be readily included in the existing programme while support and counseling should be given to the trainers and to the people responsible for the programme. This would allow a positive integration into already existing organizations and structures.

The use of an already existing structure allows immediate action and readily available facilities. It also allows a greater freedom of choice for the disabled person. Community Based Rehabilitation Centers and Training Centers can also offer good insights and opportunities for income generation activities and the problems associated with their daily requirements. These centers offer special answers to special needs and may well be associated with existing cooperatives for further developments. While the main objective in such a programme is to create income-generating activities, the overall objective remains physical rehabilitation, emotional stability, self-satisfaction and happiness to lead a normal life.

Empowering the rural disabled: Introduction | Women | Cambodia 1 | Cambodia 2 | Lao PDR | Sri Lanka | Thailand 1 | Thailand 2 | Vietnam 1 | Vietnam 2 | Agroindustry | Horticulture | Strategies

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