INCREASE THE INVOLVEMENT OF ACTIVE VISUALLY IMPAIRED WOMEN IN ASIA By Manique Gunaratne

True social development cannot take place without the participation as well as empowerment of visually impaired women and youth. A pertinent observation is that the nature of their involvement in various organizations of and for the blind has greatly varied across time and space. In the past, many visually impaired women outside the Asian Blind Union region have demonstrated conclusively that, given the right opportunity, they can prove to be great assets not only to the organizations they belonged to, but to the entire community. These path-breaking group of ladies was, of course, spearheaded by the legendary figure, Helen Keller, with many others following in her footsteps. In the present century, the strand of such commendable leader ship has been continued in the World Blind Union, the apex international body of the blind. Visually impaired ladies from Sweden and Australia have held the office of the President of the Union with remarkable success. In Asian region, however, very few such instances of leadership from amongst visually impaired women have come to light.

We have hardly any instances of a visually impaired lady leading the Regional Union or even any of the national organizations in their respective countries. This is the hitherto known situation, despite the fact that women constitute (though no reliable statistical data is available) half or nearly half of the visually impaired population in Asian countries. What then is the factual position? What are the causative factors – these and related questions call for systematic investigation.

Similarly, young visually impaired men and women hold a reservoir of largely untapped energy and potential. Yes, many of them have excelled in various spheres in developed countries – an American conquering Mount Everest, a British ex-pilot making a solo flight London-Sydney-London, a few persons working with the armed forces for intelligence-gathering in Belgium, the Netherlands, etc. Of course, there are large numbers of young people engaged in routine economic activities, too, with many participating in programmes to support their visually impaired peers.

In Asian region as well many visually impaired young persons have made a mark for themselves in different fields of work. They function as advocates, entrepreneurs, IT professionals, school and college teachers, government officials, craftsmen, village workers, etc., besides carrying out a host of routine and traditional activities. Yet, these gainfully employed individuals are but a small minority leaving out multitudinous numbers languishing in deprivation and neglect.

Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that the situation about the participation of these young persons in organizations of and for the blind has remained mostly unknown, even unchartered. These organizations could aspire for balanced growth and sustained development only when they are tinged with vibrant youthful energy. What is the extent, if any, of their participation in such organizational activities – is a basic question with implications for future programming and advancement of our organizations?

It was in this background and context that the present workshop was taken up to explore the status of participation of visually impaired women and youth in organizations working with the blind in the Asian region.

The Asian Blind Union consists of three sub regions, namely South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. The Asian Blind Union did a research and the results showed that women in Asia are not actively engaged in organizational activities. In order to develop the leadership qualities of vision impaired men and women a programme was organized in Bahrain in December 2014 on “Policy Development with emphases on Asian Blind Union gender balance policy to increase the involvement of active visually impaired women in the region”. Vision impaired persons from South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East participated in the workshop. Ms. Manique gunaratne represented Sri Lanka at this workshop as an Executive Committee member of the Asian Blind Union.

Conference on policy development in Bahrain

 

BRAILLE AND LARGE PRINT POCKET CALENDARS FOR VISION IMPAIRED PERSONS By Manique Gunaratne

The employers’ Federation of Ceylon I.C.t. Training Centre for Persons with Disabilities publishes Braille and large print pocket and desk calendars every year. These calendars are distributed among the E.F.C. trainees and other vision impaired persons in the country free of charge. These pocket calendars are very popular among the vision impaired community. Each year on the New Year day Ms. Manique gunaratne presents the first Braille calendar to the Director General, Mr. Ravi Peiris.

presenting the braille calendar 2015

GROUP OF VISION IMPAIRED PERSONS SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETES MICROSOFT EXCEL By Manique Gunaratne

6 vision impaired trainees completed Course no. 4 Microsoft Excel at The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon I.C.t. training Centre conducted by Ms. Manique Gunaratne in January 2015. Up to-date 35 vision impaired trainees have successfully completed Microsoft Excel. Out of these 6 trainees 2 are employed, 3 are unemployed and there was one University student. The successful trainees are Tuan Cassim, Sayed Ahamed, Chandana De Silva, Sanali Senanayake, Jeewan Lilaratne and Pream Kumar.DSC04242

I.T. FOR WOMEN By Manique Gunaratne

manique making a presentation at the cisco programme                                                                                 It is very important to inspire young women to select ICT as their career option and retain the whom who are already in the industry. It has become a major concern the number of female participant in the IT industry and specifically Cisco do consider on networking profession. With the current statistics it is considerably low and this has being directly impacted to the productivity of the organisation around the world due to in parity of the gender.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the IT sector will have nearly 1.4 million job openings by 2020. Yet over two-thirds of these jobs could go unfilled due to the insufficient pool of college graduates with computing-related degrees. Quite simply, if we don’t have enough people with ICT skills to manage and protect the computer systems that power our lives, we are in serious trouble. One third of the unemployment of the world is in Asia Pacific. From that one third as well female percentage is higher than male. Cisco believes as a social responsible company can raise the voice to do a different. To promote Information Technology for Women, CISCO Sri Lanka organized a webinar in February 2015 at the University of Colombo, College House. Ms. Manique Gunaratne was one of the panelists at the programme. She spoke on the “Importance of information technology for women”. The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon I.C.T. Training Centre for Persons with Disabilities conducts CISCO courses on Information Technology Essentials (I.T.E.) and CCNA for vision impaired persons, hearing impaired persons and persons with physical disabilities.

group of resource persons at the cisco

IBRAILLER FOR VISION IMPAIRED PERSONS By Manique Gunaratne

The IBrailler software assist vision impaired persons to type in Braille in an Ipad which will convert into sighted letters. The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon I.C.T. Training Centre headed by Ms. Manique Gunaratne together with the vision impaired trainees supported the developers by checking the accessibility by providing them with new ideas. In February 2015 Stanford U.S.A. published an article about the IBrailler software. It acknowledges the support given by the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon. Please read the article for more details about the IBrailler on:
http://news.stanford.edu/news/2015/february/braille-writer-app-021015.html

Manique’s Experience in the Workshops

Lot of hard work, preparations, team work and long journey turned into laughter and smiles of everyone after we concluded the workshops for persons with disabilities, their families and the community in Mulativu and Kilinochchi districts.

The journey began on 17th January to Kilinochchi with the I.L.O. LEED project team members. Though it was a long journey we did not feel the time because all of us were coming up with jokes, funny things in life and own life experiences of Tanya, Manique, Vasana and Beulah. Happy bunch of ladies reached Kilinochchi in the evening. Late evening was exciting too. Ladies got together in one room and prepared the training materials in an enjoyable way. The secret of the success of the workshop was the team work with the maximum enthusiasm.

All four workshops were with a lot of experiences. Workshops were conducted with Tamil translations. There were PowerPoint presentations, activities and role plays by the resource persons. Persons with disabilities shared their experiences as well as their families and the community working with them. Employers too shared their experiences in employing persons with disabilities. E.F.C. Network on Disability, Importance of doing a job, Interview skills, writing CV’s, work environment, experience of parents of  disabled employee about the impact of having their child earning, supporting the family and being a successful citizen in society, Disability Barriers showing how families can be a barrier to persons with disabilities even though they have good intentions at heart and changing mind set are the key areas covered in the workshops for persons with disabilities and their families which had a very good impact on promoting employment with dignity.

Disability etiquettes, Barriers persons with disabilities face in the society, Expectations of a person with a disability of what they expect from the society and role plays on changing mind set in the programmes for the community touched the hearts of the participants. “Nothing about us without us” and inclusion were the most powerful thoughts when doing a workshop relating to disabilities. The emotions, the way persons with disabilities shared their experiences were very effective to send the message across to everyone.

The participants got the opportunity of a new experience by committing themselves to few key areas on disability by signing the pledge. All participants with smiling faces holding the pledge stood together and showed their commitment.

The LEED team did a field visit to MAS Factory in Kilinochchi to identify areas where persons with disabilities can be included in their work force. It was a really good experience for me.

The team returned to Colombo on 22 January with new ideas on how to improve the quality of the workshops to do them in other districts in the future.

Bloggers Diary : Changing Mindsets on Disability in the Mulativu Districts ( 2 days)

As we start our 6 hour trek up to Kilinochchi, I can’t help but feel a little daunted about doing four workshops to just under 100 people back to back. The EFC team had done one or two days each trip but never four. I hoped my voice would hold out. With the newly made roads and the great company of my team members Vasana and Manique, and later from Vavuniya Beulah, the journey flew by.

Dinner at our hotel was a little disappointing. I was hoping to order my one of my favorite tamil dishes, Rasam, the spicy soup made from coriander and tamarind, but sadly it was not on the menu. Never mind, tomorrow maybe. After dinner, we piled into Vasana’s room and set to work finishing off the training files for tomorrow’s sessions. Then it was off to bed for an early start to Mulativu

Date: 18th 2015

My previous memories of being in the North have always been of unbearably hot days. Dry searing heat – very different to the clammy moist conditions in Colombo. This trip though was very different. The mornings were positively chilly. As we travelled to Mulativu, we could see the cool morning mists rising from the paddy fields. No A/c on in the van this morning thank you!

The DS office that had so kindly offered to provide us space for the workshop was a smart newly built office. We were a little early ( it was 8am on a Sunday after all) so after a quick breakfast ( sadly no Rasam again), we were ushered to the conference room , a massive space with a fully mic’d conference table to seat 25 participants and more space should we need it.

Actually we did need it. Although we had 25 confirmed participants attending, 45 actually showed up. They just kept coming and coming and coming !

Today’s workshop was for persons with disabilities and their families. We decided to do this workshop because from our experience in working in the Northern Province. Many times when we had placed a disabled person in a good job we would find other family members preventing them from coming to work for various reasons. Sometimes it would be safety concerns. Other times family members would be giving poor advice to the disabled employee, asking them to demand more money, or insisting they request unreasonable amounts of leave continually. We wanted to show families how they can empower their disabled family member and help them to become an empowered and contributing member of the community.

The crowd were initially a little skeptical about the EFC. There is still a very strong dependency culture in these areas, with people preferring to accept handouts rather than go to work. One person actually wrote in their evaluation form, “Would have been nice if we got more money for coming”. We pay a travel allowance of Rs 1000 per family who attend. Add to this lunch and tea breaks and its pretty clear some people see this as a nice day out, rather than a place to learn something new.

One of the most touching moments in the workshop was when a young lady from Taprobane Fisheries who is physically disabled ( she is missing her right hand), broke down in tears speaking about how getting the job at Taprobane has changed her life. She spoke of how her family had never really given her much respect when she lost her hand, and she was excluded from many family decisions and activities. Her family also discouraged her from going for the job saying, she would not be able to work and she should just remain at home. In tears she told us how she now earns more money than any of her family and how her mother came to ask her for money for her sisters operation. Her story made a huge impact on the other participants.

In the family sessions we worked on changing attitudes and mindset around disabilities and also looked at the practical processes around getting a job, like how to write a CV, how to perform at an interview and what the work environment is like.

Date: 19th Jan 2015

Day 2 of the workshop sessions and we are again in PTK in the Mulativu District. This time the session is for District Service officers and other members of the community and how to change mindsets and attitudes towards persons with disabilities.

Manique did an excellent session on Disability Etiquette, the practical do’s and don’ts of how to interact with persons with disabilities. She went through practical things like how to introduce yourself to a blind, deaf physical impaired and learning impaired person. She showed the group how to lead a blind person. How to attract the attention of a deaf person and what the politically correct terms were when talking about persons with disabilities.

We were keen to use the lovely big space we had at the DS Office, so on the spur of the moment, we decided that the sessions on the Models of Disability should be very interactive. First we explained each of the models:

The Traditional Model is where society thinks a person is cursed or has sinned and that is why they are disabled. In many traditional communities people are cast out or shut away just forbeing disabled.

As civilizations developed, traditional attitudes changed and the medical model was born but this also saw persons with disabilities as “not normal” and felt that such people could not function in everyday life so had to be put in “special schools and homes” away from society.

The Social Model was developed as part of the Disability Rights Movement which started in the 70’s. Here disabled persons claimed their place in society as human beings with rights. They stated that if they did not have reasonable access to the same facilities as the rest of a community, access to education, healthcare, job opportunities, etc, then the problem lay not with the person but with the society itself.

Once we’d explained these, the team thoroughly embarrassed themselves, by performing a small play. The first showed Vasana, as a new mother nursing her new baby which had a disability. We used a handbag as the baby! Manique and I were her friends coming to visit her and her new baby. When she eard the knock on the door, she hides the baby and tells us she had a miscarriage. She does not show us the child even though we insist we saw her with it. When we leave we don’t believe her and we assume there is something “wrong” with the child. We say she has been punished by God for having too many boyfriends when she was young.

[Pic to be inserted here from Maniques batch]

We then asked the participants to identity which model we were acting out and then to perform a play showing how the characters would act in the social model.

The second play we performed showed the medical model. I played a doctor in his surgery and Vasana was a worried mother with her child who was being disruptive I at school. After examining the naughty girl ( played by Manique – who was actually very naughty – she threw the table cloth over my head and jiggled about in chair so much I thought she’d fall off ! It was an Oscar-winning performance!), I concluded that she was learning impaired and that she should be removed from school and put in a special school for her kind. I also told the mother to sterilize herself this was a genetic condition and as she should have no more children or they would be the same.

[Pic to be inserted here from Maniques batch]

Again we asked the group to identify the model and carry out the same scenario applying the social model. Again we got some award winning performances from participants and the laughter and involvement from the whole group made this way of learning far more engaging than a boring PowerPoint lecture.

Many of the group said afterwards, they had never been to such a workshop and performing the plays really helped them understand how attitudes can be changed in society in very practical real life ways. That’s a good result I think!

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This is the first time I joined the EFC – ILO LEEDS Project as an EFC employee. It was held for, persons with disabilities and for their families and for the rest of the community in Mulativu and Kilinochchi areas.

This programme was organized as per one of the project objectives of conducting awareness programme for the communities and the donor funded project in North in order to educate of non disabled persons about disability Issues and the business case for Persons with disabilities working. The main focus of the programme was to promote economic development in the North that is inclusive and creates decent jobs and long term sustainable livelihoods.

It was a continuous four days workshop 18th Jan- 21st Jan 2015 and the EFC team has changed their programme agenda, the techniques and the strategies as per the audience preference, in order to make the sessions more interactive. Particularly, the sudden role plays our team performed when the opportunity requires. It helped to acquire the expected target and became a win-win opportunity for the both parties to gain more understanding on the subject of persons with disabilities.

Personally, It was an interesting, awesome, experience for me to discuss persons with disabilities ‘ issues, day to day life challenges and obstacles ,those are different from my earlier experience of dealing with persons with disabilities. It was an amazing opportunity to deal with people who have directly suffered from 30 years war and to deal with their minds, different attitudes and lifestyles.

Moreover, The MAS Active factory visit was a perfect practical experience for us to identify the advantages of on the job training , and to identify any barriers that persons with disabilities face in the production process, and see the worker oriented solutions that the management has implemented to overcome those obstacles.

At the end of the workshop I gathered so many lovable memories; ultimately I earned countless self satisfaction helping them out.