Alumni promoting equal opportunities and accessibility for people with disability
Posted: 28 November 2023
To mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2023, we highlight the impact of three Australia Awards alumni who personify this year’s theme: ‘United in action to rescue and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for, with and by persons with disabilities’. The three alumni profiled below have each received an Alumni Support Grant from Australia Awards to help them deliver a project that benefits sustainable development for people with disability. Through their efforts and achievements, they are advocating for the rights and dignity of people with disability and promoting their equal participation in all aspects of society.
Agriculturist Md Hafiz Hasan has always sought for inclusive participation in agriculture by farmers with disability. The Alumni Support Grant from Australia Awards helped him implement a project to support farmers with disability to generate income through mushroom cultivation in Harinakunda Upazila, Jhenaidah District.
Hafiz is currently working as a Senior Monitoring Officer at Bangladesh’s Department of Agricultural Extension. He completed a Master of Environmental Science at Monash University in Melbourne with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship in 2018.
‘My Australian degree and experience equipped me with strategic guidance on providing mushroom cultivation training,’ says Hafiz, adding that he has applied this knowledge ‘to support people with disability to develop entrepreneurial skills in mushroom cultivation’.
In collaboration with the Department of Agricultural Extension, Hafiz conducted training sessions for farmers with disability. These sessions covered various aspects of mushroom production, and developed participants’ capacity in cultivation techniques, preparing spawn and substrates, marketing fresh products, and mushroom preservation methods. Hafiz also collaborated with the Social Welfare Department to identify and contact people with disability and support them in mushroom cultivation.
To amplify the impact of this project, Mirza Ashik Rana, President of Australia Alumni Association Bangladesh, organised an inauguration ceremony on 10 September 2022. Monira Begum, Deputy Commissioner of Jhenaidah District, attended the ceremony as the chief guest and announced an additional BDT100,000 funding from the Government of Bangladesh to support Hafiz’s project.
With the Alumni Support Grant and the funding from the Government of Bangladesh, Hafiz renovated the ‘Golden Life Mushroom’ centre in Harinakunda Upazila, which had been destroyed by Tropical Cyclone Amphan in 2020. The renovated mushroom production centre plays a vital role to support farmers in business and entrepreneurial development. Mamnur Rashid—an experienced local farmer and the owner of Golden Life Mushroom—provides training and hands-on learning about mushroom cultivation.
‘It gives me a great sense of satisfaction that through the Alumni Support Grant, I implemented a project that helped 50 mushroom farmers with disability in Harinakunda Upazila, Jhenaidah District, by providing them with training, marketing facilities and funds to run a business that will improve their livelihood,’ Hafiz says.
Many members of the group have also started adding value to the fresh mushrooms they produce by processing them differently—for example, they are preparing dried mushrooms, mushroom powder and pickles. Most of these products are being sold in the local Harinakunda market, with some being distributed in select shops throughout Jhenaidah District.
Nurunnahar Nupur is the Founder and Managing Director of ‘Positive Thinking’ in Bangladesh, a school and training centre for children with special needs. As an educator of people with disability, Nupur is using audio-visual assistive technology to enhance communication and learning among children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities in her school.
Many children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities face challenges in developing social and communication skills. Nupur used the Alumni Support Grant she received from Australia Awards to develop an audio-visual curriculum in both Bangla and English, to provide learning and communication support for children in her school who are visual learners.
This audio-visual learning curriculum consists of a composite file with audio, visual and sign language content to be used on computers and smartphones. The main purpose of this audio-visual learning support is to help children with specific needs integrate and participate in mainstream education. Nupur has included different visual prompts (such as the names of animals, flowers, food, colours and places), as well as Bengali and English letters, numbers, and primary and intermediate vocabulary that will help the children to learn new skills and interact and communicate with others. In total, 34 Bengali and English chapters are included in the audio-visual learning curriculum. The educators of Nupur’s school found the audio-visual aids to be effective in boosting communication skills among children, because they are more likely to understand information when it is presented visually than when written or spoken. Over time, the school has found that the audio-visual learning process is effective in enhancing learning and communication among 91% of their students with disability.
Nupur feels proud to be a woman with disability from Bangladesh who has received a Master of Education (Special Education) from Flinders University in 2019.
‘My Australian degree and experience have strengthened my capability to use audio-visual aids in pedagogic and psycho-neurolinguistic approaches to build confidence and self-esteem among children with disabilities in my school,’ she says.
On 26 September 2023, Nupur conducted an intensive training program for parents and teachers on how to use audio-visual material as a teaching tool for children with autism and other disabilities. Being able to use this communication aid at home allows parents to help their children learn.
Nupur mentions that her grant-funded activity would not have been possible without meaningful collaboration with the Jolputul Puppet Studio (a community-based cultural team), who supported her in filming and editing video content. She is also grateful to the teachers of Positive Thinking who helped her research and select appropriate content, design courses, and prepare instruction manuals as part of the audio-visual learning model development.
Asim Dio, Policy and Advocacy Specialist at Handicap International, long felt a pressing need for a respectful portrayal of people with disability to spread greater awareness in developing media content in Bangladesh. Using the funds from an Australia Awards Alumni Support Grant, Asim conducted a one-day workshop on disability-inclusive communication for media professionals in collaboration with Handicap International – Humanity & Inclusion, Access Bangladesh Foundation, and National Grassroots Disability Organization.
The ‘Disability Inclusive Communication for Media Professionals (print, electronic and online media) in Bangladesh’ workshop, held on 20 July 2023, attracted 33 attendees. These participants included media professionals, development experts and representatives from organisations of people with disability. The collective mission was to address the prevailing challenges and reshape the narrative surrounding disability representation in Bangladeshi media.
Asim completed a Master of Public Policy from the Australian National University in 2015 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.
‘Australia Awards supported me to build a strong foundation on policy analysis, advocacy and research,’ Asim says. ‘To implement the Alumni Support Grant project, I organised a workshop and developed a guideline on disability-inclusive communication tailored explicitly for media professionals to promote and support the human rights of people with disabilities.’
Distinguished attendees at the event included chief guest Syed Ishtiaque Reza (Chief Executive Officer and Editor-in-Chief of Global Television) and special guest Jamil Ahmed (renowned media personality and TV presenter).
The workshop highlighted key strategies and considerations on using dignified terms and ensuring respectful representation of people with disability. Applying these strategies can help create content that is not only inclusive but also accessible for people with disability. Asim believes that this guideline on disability-inclusive communication for media professionals will be a significant step towards promoting an inclusive media landscape in Bangladesh that celebrates diversity and honours the dignity of all individuals.
International Day of Persons with Disabilities has been observed on 3 December every year since 1992. We applaud not just the alumni showcased above but anyone working to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for, with or as people with disability.