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Handicap International in Tibet: an operation spanning 15 years

Inclusion
China

Handicap International began working in the Tibet Autonomous Region - where its many projects were designed to promote the social inclusion of people with disabilities - in 2000. In mid-2015, the organisation withdrew from the region and entrusted the follow-up of its projects to its former local partner, the Tibet Disabled Persons' Federation.

Handicap International supported a number of inclusion projects over 15 years in Tibet.

Handicap International supported a number of inclusion projects over 15 years in Tibet. | © Handicap International

There are approximately 210,000 people with disabilities in the Tibet Autonomous Region - around 7% of the population1. Most of them live in rural areas where it can be difficult to access health, education and rehabilitation services. They are also often victims of discrimination. From 2000 to 2015, Handicap International worked in Tibet to provide them with support and enhance their inclusion in society.

Rehabilitation and support to disabled people’s organisations

Handicap International set up four rehabilitation centres in the region (Lhasa, Chamdo, Shigatse and Loka), ran physiotherapy sessions and supplied orthopaedic devices and mobility aids (walking frames, wheelchairs and crutches). The organisation also provided support to three local disabled people’s organisations2, trained members of communities and families to case-manage and care for people with disabilities3, and raised awareness to promote their inclusion. “We made changes to the rehabilitation approach in Tibet and China - which was almost exclusively medical - and gave it a more social dimension. Our goal was to improve the living conditions of people with disabilities in Tibet. It is essential that they take part in the life of their community, earn a livelihood, and are recognised and accepted,” explains Didier Demey, who managed Handicap International’s actions in Tibet for several years.

Sign language

Handicap International also helped develop a single Tibetan sign language that everyone can understand, and which is now in widespread use by the deaf community in the region.

The organisation also enhanced the inclusion of children with disabilities in 14 nurseries, primary and special schools, promoted inclusive employment, improved mother and child health4 and advanced the rights of people with disabilities.

Handicap International passes the torch

For 15 years, the organisation provided constructive support to disabled people’s organisations and the Tibet Disabled Persons’ Federation, and made changes to the rehabilitation approach in the region. Handicap International withdrew from the region in May 2015. Its rehabilitation and community-based rehabilitation projects, and its actions in aid of disabled people’s and inclusive employment  organisations have been transferred to the Tibet Disabled Persons’ Federation, whose capacity and autonomy Handicap International helped to build throughout the 15 years of presence in the region and the collaboration in implementing projects in the different thematic areas.

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  • 1 Estimate of 7% based on the “Persons with disabilities in the Tibetan Autonomous Region TAR (2006)” survey and adapted to the number of inhabitants in 2015.
  • 2 Tibet Deaf Association, Associations of Persons with Physical Disabilities, Tibet Blind Association.
  • 3 Community-based rehabilitation.
  • 4 Including by preventing malformations in newborns and young children, and the early detection of disability.
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