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A Shakespeare for the disabled

Posted on Nov 27, 07:14PM | IBNS

The first ever Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) World Congress, which was held in Agra in November end, witnessed 192 persons with different forms of disability among the 1300 delegates from 86 different countries to strengthen CBR as a key for realising UNCRPD (UN Enable - Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) for ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities and for their inclusion in mainstream society. Deepak Parvatiyar reports

Fortysix- year- old Tom shares his surname with the greatest English poet and playwright William Shakespeare. Understandably he takes pride in flaunting his last name. Like William, he too is a British and, to top it all, this sociologist has published works under his belt.

Yet, unlike the great 'Bard of Avon', Tom ( Sir Thomas William Shakespeare) is not a literary figure but what he possesses is something that might have made even William Shakespeare proud of him. It is not just his steely resolve to contest his dwarfism and paralysed spinal cord that has confined him to wheel chair since 2008, but his mission to create awareness on the various facets of disabilities across the globe.

"Now I travel often to different countries to advise governments on the issue of disability," says Tom on the sidelines of the first ever Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) World Congress, being held in this city of Taj Mahal between November 26 and 28.

The Congress calls for greater co-ordination between Governments and more participation of all sections of the population for the empowerment of people with disability.
The Congress, which has been jointly sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO), Australian Aid, USAID, CBM and Sightsavers took up various aspects of disability and challenges to overcome it.



CBR is the strategy initiated and promoted by the World Health Organization for a cross sectoral, human rights based approach to inclusive development.

This approach for community development is targeting and involving people with disabilities, their families and their organizations as primary stakeholders.It seeks to ensure that all individuals are supported in their own communities, enjoy equal rights and opportunities as other members in the society.

Tom is an important member of the WHO delegation at the three-day Congress. He has been working for the WHO in Geneva since 2007 as a technical officer in the Disability and Rehabilitation team and had made a major contribution to the first ever world report on disability that was jointly brought out by the WHO and the World Bank on June 9, 2011.



Born with dwarfism, his disability had made his parents "slightly sad". But they gave him all support and he went on to do his doctorate from Harvard University on 'Conceptualising Disability' - how disability is affected by social environment. "Understanding disability requires multi dimensional approach that includes healthcare, attitude and political and legal rights," he said.

The main objective of the CBR World Congress is to promote CBR as a global strategy "to realize the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities". Tom hopes that as a researcher, it would help him monitor and evaluate the project on ground.

"Let's find out what is the best thing for the people with disabilities and let's make sure it reaches more people," he said, adding that he expected the Agra meet to be very useful for CBR workers to learn from each other.

"This is the first time that we have come together." He pointed out that in all 192 persons with different forms of disability were among the delegates from 86 different countries to develop/strengthen CBR as a key for realising UNCRPD (UN Enable - Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) goals for ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities and for their inclusion in mainstream society.

"CBR is very crucial because all the resource and opportunities are at the community level. What is needed is inclusion which at present is not happening at all," Ram Nathan, a 37 year old polio victim, asserts.

Like Tom, Nathan too is confined to a wheel chair but is full of life and vigour. He is the President of Karnataka State Disability Network and Joint Secretary of CBR India network. "You cannot create institutions such as residential schools for the disabled, homes everywhere and this restricts. Community is where one lives," he says.

"Definitely the World Congress will set a milestone," Alana Officer, Coordinator, Disability and Rehabilitation, WHO, sounded confident. She had valid reason as well: "India has an incredible history in CBR. 30 years ago, India was the first country organizing CBR."

Obviously this reason ensured that India be the venue of the first World Congress on CBR and as Poonam Natarajan, Chairperson, National Trust, Government of India aptly sums up, "It's truly a historic occasion and reflective of India's huge experience in CBR".

(The writer is a senior journalist and documentary film maker)