Cuba’s Inclusion Effort for Disabled

Patricia Grogg

Cuba makes a major effort for the inclusion of people with disabilities. Photo: Caridad
Cuba makes a major effort for the inclusion of people with disabilities. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, August 6  (IPS) – Arnoldo Ramón Virgilio’s legs are of little use to him, but he has a way with words that more than makes up for any physical limitations.  He’s one of the outpatients at the “America Labadi Arce” Medical and Education Center, which provides health care and rehabilitation for people with disabilities in Santiago de Cuba.

“I’m president of the patients’ committee. I like poetry and making myself useful,” Virgilio told IPS as he prepared the envelopes that will be used to pay the staff their wages at the end of the month.

And exactly what does the president of the patients’ committee do?  “Every once in a while, we meet with the Board to present our problems and needs,” he explained.  “Right now our biggest problem is transportation.”

Transportation is a problem with which Virgilio is all too familiar.  Every day he has to make the trip from his home to the center and back on a battered old bus owned by the center, one of two such institutions that provide care for persons with severe intellectual and physical disabilities in Santiago de Cuba.

He first came to the center almost 30 years ago, when he was only seven and completely disabled as a result of cerebral palsy.  “Everyone thought I’d be confined to a couch my whole life, but with the therapy I received here I was rehabilitated and I learned to read and write. I’m also getting good at using the computer.  I like to learn,” he says.

Rehabilitation and Breaking the Bubble

He uses a walker to get around and prefers to do it without anybody’s help.  “I really like everyone here because thanks to what they do I’ve been rehabilitated,” he tells IPS.  The center has one nurse and one nursing assistant for every 12 patients, who number 150 in all, 114 of whom live there.

While it depends on the individual needs of each patient, their day typically includes recreational therapy, music playing sessions, exercise or sports, arts and crafts, speech and physical therapy, and even training to perform simple household chores such as preparing a snack, making the bed or setting the table.

“We try to give them a place in life, make them feel useful, within the capabilities of each individual,” says one of the therapists.  Hanging on the front door of the center is a large sign that reads: “We are ordinary people, just like you.”  The sign is part of a citywide campaign to raise awareness about people with disabilities.

The program, which receives funding from international donors, includes activities outside the center, such as taking groups of patients to agricultural street markets, as part of their insertion into economic and social life.  “By taking them out into the world, we broke the glass bubble they were in.  Their families were afraid that they wouldn’t be accepted.  But all those fears have vanished now,” social worker Estrella Rivero said.

As in the rest of the country, these vulnerable sectors of Santiago de Cuba’s population receive specialized care, primarily from the public health and education systems.

It is also an important part of the country’s efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – a series of targets agreed on by 189 heads of state at the United Nations’ Development Summit in 2000 to address major issues standing in the way of development, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable groups. The deadline set for meeting these goals is 2015.

“From the time a child is born and diagnosed with a potential disability, a multidisciplinary medical team is assigned to monitor the case,” Auria Martinez, head of the Public Health Ministry’s provincial program for people with disabilities, told IPS.

Dr. Maida Esparraguera, who heads the Seniors, Social Work and Disabilities Division, insists on the importance of family doctors, because they are in a privileged position to detect health risks in time and thus play a key role in primary care in the country.  “Patients are referred based on their diagnoses, so that appropriate action can be taken in each case,” she explained.

Educating for Inclusion

Social inclusion is also a concern of the special education system implemented for people with disabilities. “The key aim here is to prepare (children with disabilities) to actively participate in the labor market, in accordance with each person’s potential,” Rosa Alvarez Fundichely, the area’s assistant director for the province, told IPS.

According to data provided by Alvarez, there are currently 47 special education schools in Santiago de Cuba – some of them in remote mountainous regions – teaching a total of 4,883 disabled pupils 18 and under.

The system guarantees that all children with disabilities will receive an education even if they can’t make it to school, providing lessons at home for students who can’t leave the house, or at the hospital when students need to be hospitalized for long periods. These special needs youngsters receive education and training until they turn 18, but remain in the program until they find a job.

“In Cuba we see special education as a comprehensive system involving resources, support, various modes of assistance, and guidance for families, communities and mainstream classroom teachers, so that these students will receive the attention they need,” Alvarez added.

The program also includes 98 children with disabilities who are enrolled in mainstream classrooms because they live in very remote areas and must attend the school nearest to their home. “Families defend this form of inclusion, which enables them to have their special needs kids close to home,” Alvarez said.

According to Alvarez, there are plans to improve this strategy – which has existed for years – through a teacher training project funded by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), which targets educators who work with disabled students in ordinary classrooms.

Another AECID-funded project will contribute to improving conditions in some of the special schools and will provide enhanced training for specialized staff at the diagnostic centers, with the aim of guaranteeing timely detection of cases that require special attention.

A thorough study conducted in Cuba between 2001 and 2003 found that there were 366,864 people with disabilities in the country. According to specialists on the subject, the data gathered in the study made it possible to form a profile of this sector of the population and provided input for the design of preventive measures and strategies to enhance the quality of life of individuals with special needs.

Official sources say that services for disabled people in Cuba – which are free, as are all other health and education services on the island – are provided in accordance to a plan of action launched in 1995 with the aim of proposing, implementing and monitoring policies to address the issue and coordinate actions across ministries and state agencies.

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  • Dear Friends

    DEF is a non-governmental organization working for the development of the disabled and women since 2004. As you know that people of Pakistan are suffering with flood disaster. A lot of relief work being done by Government level as well as NGOs and private sector level but it is observed by DEF team in a survey that mostly the beneficiaries are normal people specially men who can access to the distribution points or relief camps but the women and the people with disabilities are being ignored. So we decided to work with up given segments of the society. DEF appreciate your work for the betterment of the humanity to bring a change to the world. Enclosed are the details of the DEF relief work. We would like to receive a feed back from your organization and we hope that our relation will go on long terms to make world a better place.

    We hope to receive an ac


    Irum Naz

    Disabled Empowerment Foundation (DEF)
    Toba Tek Singh (Punjab, Pakistan)
    Cell: 0333-6871022

    Email us: [email protected]

    [email protected]

    Phone: +92-462009090


    Floods in Pakistan

    Emergency Response Program for persons with disability in Pakistan

    Back Ground:

    Floods in Pakistan hit vast areas of Pakistan affecting over two million people across the country. Flash floods devastated houses, standing crops, livestock, roads and other infrastructure. Millions migrated to safe places however large number of people stranded in water among them were persons with disability and livestock. However before any major mishap the above mentioned segments of life were neglected in relief operation by government, local and International aid giving organizations.

    Disabled Empowerment Foundation (DEF) established in 2004 to empower persons with disability in the city of Toba Tek Singh. It has been making known the convention of the rights of persons with disability. It has a vision to create a better world for persons with disability. The following activities have been conducted.

    ? Educating opinion makers on the Convention of Persons with Disability

    ? working with government social welfare department to issue the disabled certificate from the government. The certificate official indicates the kind of disability and the certificate holder is given special benefit from the government. Since the process is complicated for a person with disability and he/she finds difficult to processed.

    ? Special events are organized to draw the attention of the society to respect and work for the persons with disability.

    ? Educating parents on the methods to deal with special children.

    Response Program for persons with disability

    DEF planned to initiate Emergency response program for the persons with disability.

    DEF made several assessment visits to various flood hit areas in South Punjab to start a response program. It found the followings

    · Rescue and relief from NGOs, government and International organizations was handed out to men.

    · Children, women and particularly persons with disability were not taken care of.

    · Persons with disability had no access to distribution points so they remained dependent and starved and suffered a lot for displacement.

    · Persons with disability were badly ignored.

    · In many cases DEF found people like unconscious.

    · DEF made contacts with Flood Control room and district administration to obtain the data of the flood hit disabled. However the government failed to provide any data in the flood hit areas or people spread in different clusters.

    · District Jhang and Layyah are closed to Toba Tek Singh (DEF is located in Toba Tek Singh central Punjab)

    · DEF assessment team made urgent survey to register the persons with disability in different clusters of the above mentioned districts.

    · In the meantime DEF launched flood relief camps in district Toba Tek Singh in the centre of public place to create awareness and fund raising for the flood hit persons with disability of Layyah and Jhang.

    · DEF registered 246 persons with disability in District Layyah and 268 in District Jhang.

    DEF Emergency Response Program:

    DEF planned to facilitate 1000 families in District Jhang and Layyah with relief packages. The criteria to nominate families were women and people with disabilities. Each flood hit family in flood hit areas was given a registration and they were issued cards from DEF to collect relief package. The Package is as below,

    Ration for 15 days including wheat flour, cooking oil, sugar, rice, lentils, clothes, beddings, utensils etc each package costs Rupees eight thousand which makes US 100 $s. the package was also included hygiene kit which was comprised of anti-germ hand washes, soaps, dish wash bars, detergent powder and dettol bottles to avoid expected epidemic diseases.

    Each distribution was made in government institutions and in presence of media, government and other social change agents so they may draw the attention of the public to support the persons with disability.

    There were suggestions to distribute package at the door steps of the persons with disability, however to avoid any uncertainty and smooth flow of the package the distributions were organized in government institutions and beneficiaries were provided food and fare. The pictures are attached with to show the extreme situation of the persons with disability hit by floods.


    Muhammad Aslam 26, Mouza Dolu Nashab, Lohanch Nashab, District Layyah, said, “When the flood news spread in my village, each one tried to reach on safe places. My family members were trying to save first the families who were normal and ration and livestock. Nobody thought of me. I cried and my mother helped me to sit over the donkey.

    When the family was walking through the flood water, I was not sure that we will reach to some safe place, however, walking twenty to twenty five miles, we were managed to reach dyke. For days, I remained still uncertain weather, I will remain alive or not as there was no relief coming in. My brothers and other families went in search of food and tents but they failed for next few days.

    The government air lifted the food article which was difficult for person like. I thanked God when I met team members of DEF. When they interviewed, I got relieved. They registered me to support my whole family through me. When my family came to know beddings, ration and other relief will be given because of me, they all apologized for not been so caring to my needs.”

    Musarat Mia, 46 from Pir Abdul-ul-Rehman, Tehsil Ahmad Pursial, District Jhang, has two young girls mentally retarded. The young girls are 17 & 19. The family was not registered during the survey as they were shifted to their relations. When the water was receded, the family came and when DEF organized its fourth distribution.

    Musarat Mai came to distribution and asked to include her daughters. The team leader refused as they saw she was not registered and had not visited her daughters. On refusal, the women went some 30 miles and brought her two young daughters walking like animal. They did not have any support like wheel chairs. Their clothes were dirty and foot and hands were badly injured for traveling. The girls hardly traveled a couple of weak.

    Team of DEF met with a 72 yrs old woman who got injured in flood disaster. She told us that when she was running to save her life with her family, she struck with something and fell on the road, meanwhile a truck came to the road and crushed her right foot badly under its giant tyres, she was badly hurt and her family somehow managed to take her to some safe place but not having any kind of access to medical facilities, the wound could not be cured and she lost her foot and now dependant on her family to move around.

    Future Plans:

    Relief activities are almost done and it is time to work on rehabilitation work on sustainable bases. DEF intends to provide medical facilities to the people who have already some kind of disabilities or got disabled in flood disaster. Given below would be the DEF priorities.

    ? providing roofs to the disabled to help them to arrange proper shelters as the winter season is about to start even in some areas of Pakistan it is already started and the people are forcely living under the open sky

    ? Facilitate the most needy people with disabilities with wheel chairs, crutches, hearing aids and if needed also with physiotherapy treatment

    ? Organizing medical camps to provide vaccination to the women and people with disabilities to avoid epidemic diseases spread out due to flood water

    ? Advocacy & lobbying with local government body as well as on media level to highlight the issues and value recognition to the disabled

    ? conducting awareness seminars on epidemic diseases and reproductive health for mothers

    ? Income generating program with women and mothers to enable them to look after the special family members in a better way

    ? Capacity building and skill development programs for the disabled to make them a confident, independent and productive member of the society

    ? Equipping children with disabilities with standard education to give them a bright future.

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