Oasis of accessibility

Our health and rehabilitation centre in Balukhali refugee camp felt like an oasis of accessibility, after being pushed, pulled, lifted and carried through the sucking mud to get there.

Wheelchair user being helped through refugee camp

Making our way to the CBM/CDD health/rehab centre

The short journey from the main road gave a vivid picture of just how physically challenging this place is, and the fact that I was the only person using a wheelchair is a reminder that many of the Rohingya refugees must spend their lives in or around their homes because of it.

And it’s not all just about physical accessibility. After being shown around, seeing the services being provided (healthcare, rehabilitation and mental health support, as well as an inclusive child-friendly space and home-based rehabilitation to seek out the people who can’t make it to the centre) we held a focus group discussion with people with disabilities from the refugee population. All were happy to have received support here, and several are still coming back for ongoing treatment. But they were quick to describe the issues accessing basic mainstream services in the wider camp, such as food, water and shelter.

About 10 people in a tent, having a discussion

We also held a focus group discussion in the host community, where we are providing similar services to local people living near the camps

A single mother spoke of little consideration being given to the fact her child needs more support than most, meaning she has less time to collect goods; a young man spoke of the terrain meaning he (on behalf of his family) was often last or late to reach distribution points. In situations like this, there are many other barriers, including attitude and awareness of staff and access to information and communication, which mean people with disabilities are routinely missed out.

For this reason, CBM and our partner organisation Centre for Disability in Development (CDD) are approaching the problem from two angles.

At the same time as providing these specialised services that are inclusive of everyone, we are working to positively influence the bigger picture. This means engaging with willing organisations to support them on making their interventions more inclusive too. As part of this work, during my visit, I took part in trainings with staff from International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and with IOM.

Training session with somebody explaining to a group using a flipchart

CBM/CDD training IOM staff on disability inclusion (focusing on their specific fields of work: Protection, Child Protection, GBV and Counter Trafficking)

In providing such trainings, and ongoing support, we use experience and resources that have been developed from previous responses, and we showcase the inclusive work going on here in Bangladesh. The health and rehab centre is therefore more than just a service delivery point; it’s an example of what is really possible.

Beyond trainings, we are working on the development of inclusive learning centres with UNICEF, home-based rehabilitation with IOM and others, and mainstreaming disability in Oxfam/Care WASH, GBV and food security activities.

This work, with specific agencies, is a very good beginning towards making a significant positive change in disability inclusion. But as well as these formal collaborations, we are also engaging with the wider humanitarian community through the cluster system. Even though my visit was short, I had the chance to participate in two such meetings; one where I hope our intervention will ensure many learning centres will be designed (from the beginning) to be accessible, and another where data on child protection has been agreed to include information about disability (without being counted, there is no way of knowing if children with disabilities are included). These may seem small steps, and are not yet guaranteed to materialise, but would make significant changes in the lives of many people who are currently missing out.

The refugee camps have existed here for over a year. Much great work is being done and the resilience of the people is clear. Although we have a long way to go before aid is reaching everybody, I was encouraged by this visit. The need for inclusion is being recognised on many levels. It won’t happen overnight, and it will be a long time before a camp like this is fully wheelchair accessible, with more than just a few ‘oases of accessibility’, but we are going in the right direction.

A meeting with deaf leaders from Vietnam

Written jointly with Sian Tesni, Senior Education Advisor

Recently Sian and I had the fantastic opportunity to meet with deaf leaders in Vietnam. We met with dynamic leaders, Ling from Hanoi and Huong from Ho Chi Minh City. We were able to learn some history of the Deaf community and also the myriad barriers deaf and hard of hearing encounter in Vietnam. The following is a summary of what we learned, which is only a glimpse of this rich culture. We hope to work more with this community in CBM.

Alt="Sian, Elizabeth, and Mai with deaf leaders"

Sian, Elizabeth, and Mai with deaf leaders

The first deaf school in the country was established in 1886 in the South of Vietnam. At the end of the war in Vietnam in 1976, the first school for deaf children was established in the north in Haiphong City with the fist school for deaf children in Hanoi established the following year in 1977. These schools used sign language indeed sign language was used in schools for deaf children throughout Vietnam. In 1990 Dutch missionaries arrived in Vietnam and spread the oral method of educating deaf children, which spread throughout the country and consequently removing sign language as a primary source of communication.

In 2000 Professor James Woodward established a sign language program in Vietnam with the support of the Nippon Foundation. He was director of the project “Opening University Education to Deaf People in Viet Nam” at the Dong Nai Provincial Department of Education and Training. This program brought back sign language use in Vietnam and provided opportunities for empowerment for deaf leaders such as Lin. In 2001, Lin left the oral school where he was a student and instead attended Woodward’s sign language program. Since then, Lin has become a formidable leader in the Deaf community. Lin empowers other deaf leaders as well, such as Huong whom he met and to whom he taught sign language. Now she is another empowered deaf leader in Ho Chi Minh City.

Alt="Huong and Ling presenting"

Huong and Ling presenting

Currently there are 100 schools for deaf children in the country and 27 deaf students have graduated with a college or university degree. There are currently three deaf teachers in Hanoi and two in Dan Nang.

There are many barriers for deaf and hard of hearing people to have equal access into Vietnamese society. There is lack of access to information. In the entire country there are only 10 sign language interpreters, and all are unpaid, as the government does not provide these services or fund interpreters. In addition, as of yet, there is no formal sign language interpreting program and Vietnamese Sign Language is not recognized by the government. There are no interpreters or closed captions on television, no interpreters in universities, or for public services, including healthcare services.

Not having interpreters in medical settings leads to lack of access to important healthcare information. This can be a frightening situation to be in. One example given was that a deaf couple went to the doctor for a routine checkup since the woman was pregnant. The healthcare personnel thought she was there to get an abortion instead. Fortunately the couple realized this grave error in time and received the appropriate healthcare attention they wanted.

In addition, deaf people are not permitted to get driver’s licenses, which creates another barrier and deprives and restricts access to essential services, employment and social opportunities. The World Federation of the Deaf (2016) indicates that deafness does not in any way limit a person’s ability to drive a car or other vehicles. Globally, there are no known reports that deaf drivers are a threat to other road users or that they are involved in more traffic accidents or injuries than the general population. On the contrary, according to studies, deaf drivers are involved in fewer car accidents than the average driver.

Keeping in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, all persons with disabilities are guaranteed their full enjoyment of human rights without discrimination with the commitment to leave no one behind. This includes those furthest behind, such as deaf people in Vietnam.

We want to give a huge thanks to Mai Vu Thi Tuyet and Glenn Gibney from the CBM Vietnam office for hosting us and organizing the meeting with deaf leaders.




World Federation of the Deaf. (2016). WFD Statement on Deaf People’s Right to Drive a Car or Other Vehicles. Accessed from: https://wfdeaf.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/WFD-statement-on-right-to-drive-a-car-or-other-vehicles-FINAL-31-Aug-2016.pdf

Data: Is it the new Oil, Water or light for Sustainable Development?

Don’t worry, this short blog is not going to explore the meaning of the various images used in the title, but they were referenced during the 2nd UN World Data forum again and again, so I thought they might serve as a nice way to introduce this blog. All of them suggest that without data, progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development cannot be made or measured. I leave it to you to reflect further upon the different images used and which one you prefer…


The UN World Data Forum 2018 was hosted by the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority, of United Arab Emirates from 22 to 24 October 2018, with support from the Statistics Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, under the guidance of the United Nations Statistical Commission and the High-level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


The long list of hosts and supporting partners listed here above, will already give you an idea of howdiverse and broad the participants were. All came together, for the second Data Forum of this kind, to present and debate the need to collect, interpret and use the right data, in order to support and inform the right decisions to advance the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Forum, which was attended by over 2000 people, was held in plenary and many concurrent sessions focussing on specific topics. The programme was extremely diverse, ranging from sessions about the role of national statistical offices to the debate on whether there is a lack of public trust in data in times of social media.


In the midst of this vast programme, there was the motto of the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind that was quoted as one of the key principles of the Agenda in almost all sessions! And there was broad consensus that we still have too little data about people who are left behind and about the causes for people being left behind. In that regard, data was often seen as a tool to empower people, rather than just being numbers! A clear sense of urgency came from the Data Forum to speed-up collection of data about those who are, or who are supposedly, amongst the most marginalised groups of the population. While there was agreement amongst participants that method’s to collect ata are changing and will include in the future more innovative ways (such as data collected via mobile phones), the role and recognition of citizens gathered data to inform the “official” data picture remains a matter for further discussion.


It was very positive to see that persons with disabilities were mentioned during the Data Forum in the context of leaving no one behind. This is certainly not a given in such “expert fora” and would not have been the case few years ago! At the same time, that visibility of disability data was largely made possible by the interventions of DPO representatives from within the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and its members as well as disability-focussed NGOs such as CBM. This shows that we still have a long way to go, in order to convince statisticians and the “Data Community” to really include ALL in their thinking and in their work! But the Data Forum in Dubai undoubtedly provided a positive further step in that direction!

All means All!

Over the last five days, more than 200 participants gathered in Manila to attend the East-Asia Regional Conference entitled “Rights-based Education and Sustainable Development Goals for People with Visual Impairment“. This event was organised by the International Council for the Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI) and brought together a very divers group of people, ranging from current students who are blind or partially sighted to governmental representatives of the education sector. All united in the desire to make great progress towards the realisation of the right to education for all!


Together with my CBM colleagues Sian Tesni, Senior Advisor for Education, Rainer Güttler, Country Director Philippines and Karin van Dijk, Low-Vision Advisor I had the pleasure to be amongst the participants in this exciting conference! CBM is a founding member and long-standing supporter of ICEVI in many countries we are working in and globally.


Without even attempting to summarise the richness of discussions during the conference, the programme included a wide range of themes: From very political matters such as the Sustainable Development Goals to very practical tips on how to include learners with multiple disabilities in education. Besides many presentations, discussions and lots of thematic exchange, the conference was also an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of some individuals from the Philippines and the region. For example, through the support in the high-education programme of ICEVI, a former young student now made it to the highest level of civil servants in the Philippines. This was totally unthinkable 10 or 15 years ago! Such individual achievements are not only the result of the hard work of the person and of the support provided by ICEVI, but are importantly an encouragement to other students that it is possible. They also help to break prejudices and negative attitudes towards persons with disabilities, as they show to the society as a whole the enormous potential that all people have!


Some of the other key messages coming from the conference are:

  • There is a wealth of knowledge on what works and what does not and still progress is not as fast as we want it to be.
  • The chances to fully include persons with visual impairment in education were never as high as today: There is the political commitment and imperative through the CRPD and the SDGs and many other policies and there is the huge potential through new technologies. In other words: There is no excuse!
  • Inclusion and also inclusive education should not be seen as a place; they are a process or a journey that needs to be contextualised.With all that in mind, I would like to use the phrase that was often cited during the conference and almost became a motto in its own right: All means all!