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International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Building a disability-inclusive world

Posted: 2 December 2020

Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Alumni, COVID-19, Disability, Impact, Inclusion, Scholar,

On 3 December, the world will come together to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities to promote an understanding of people with disability and celebrate their achievements and contributions.

In line with this year’s United Nations’ theme of ‘Building Back Better: Toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world,’ the following snapshots highlight Australia Awards scholars, alumni and Program activities that are contributing to a more inclusive and accessible world.

Australia Awards empowers future leaders, including those with disability, to drive change and contribute to development. The Program offers Scholarships and Short Courses on the basis of merit, transparency and equitable access for all, and supports recipients with disability to achieve their educational aspirations.

Scholars and alumni contributing to inclusion

Across the South and West Asia region, Australia Awards scholars and alumni with disability have been overcoming barriers to become role models for the disability community and beyond.

Australia Awards alumnus and disability rights activist Shudarson Subedi from Nepal has had a major impact on government policies to mainstream disability rights in the country. Shudarson works with provincial and local government representatives to develop appropriate policies and guidelines about the rights of people with disability. To address the problem of children with disability not being able to access alternative education resources during the COVID-19 pandemic, he has also been liaising with Australian alumni and education stakeholders to create training materials for schools. “My Australia Awards experience has inspired me to actively work for inclusive COVID-19 management and response,” Shudarson says.

Australia Awards alumnus Shudarson Subedi is impacting government policies to mainstream disability rights in Nepal

In Bangladesh, Australia Awards alumna Nurunnahar Nupur is Managing Director/Founder of Positive Thinking, a school for children with special needs. As an occupational therapist, Nupur is helping children with disability and their families to adapt to the changes brought about by COVID-19 and maintain their wellbeing during the pandemic.

Nupur completed a Master of Education with a focus on Special Education from Flinders University in 2019. “I feel proud to be a female with a disability from Bangladesh with a degree in inclusive education from Australia,” she says. “The Scholarship provided me with the tools, knowledge and networks to effectively advocate for inclusiveness and for mainstreaming special needs children into regular schools. I now feel more confident to campaign for the education of children with disability and to support other educators.”

Australia Awards alumna Nurunnahar Nupur is using digital technology to support children with disability in Bangladesh during COVID-19

Yeshi Gyaltshen is the first person from Bhutan who is hard-of-hearing to be offered an Australia Awards Scholarship. Yeshi is currently pursuing his Master of Learning Interventions with a focus on deaf education at the University of Melbourne. He aspires to help improve the overall deaf education system in Bhutan. “I have been able to achieve all this thanks to the unwavering support and guidance throughout the Scholarship process from Australia Awards. I am truly grateful,” says Yeshi.

Australia Awards scholar Yeshi Gyaltshen receiving his Scholarship offer certificate from the Deputy High Commissioner to India and Bhutan, Mr Rod Hilton

In Sri Lanka, Australia Awards alumna Dr Samitha Samanmali’s story of courage and inspiration is a perfect example of how one can draw strength from adversity. An unexpected injury at the age of 25 did not stop Samitha from fulfilling her dreams. She received an Australia Awards Scholarship to undertake a Master of Disability Policy and Practice at Flinders University, beginning in 2017.

Samitha encourages others to apply for Australia Awards opportunities. “Students with a disability are hesitant to leave the country to pursue studies,” she says. “I had the same fear too. I can assure, through my experience, if you do receive an Australia Awards Scholarship, you will receive all the support and assistance to help you successfully complete your studies.”

Australia Awards alumna Dr Samitha Samanmali from Sri Lanka

Activities across the region

Australia Awards alumni networks in the region initiate various campaigns and activities to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities each year. These activities supplement a broad range of Australia Awards inclusion activities throughout the year.

In 2020, alumni networks in Sri Lanka and Maldives will run a social media campaign to celebrate and bring awareness to the day. The alumni will share how their scholar experiences have paved the way to their current roles and responsibilities in the disability sphere. The campaign speaks about the impact and challenges of the current pandemic on adults and children with disability, while focusing on people’s abilities rather than disabilities. The messages are featured on Australia in Sri Lanka and Maldives Facebook page.

In Nepal, Alumni Disability Initiative Grants were recently awarded to four alumni projects to support the Australian Government’s Development for All 2015–2020: Strategy for strengthening disability-inclusive development in Australia’s aid program, which targets quality of life improvements for people with disability in developing countries.

In July, Australia Awards organised an online session on Gender and Disability Dimensions of COVID-19 with alumni from the Maldives and Sri Lanka. In September, the Program presented a series of online panel discussions on inclusive education, educational technology and remote learning that included a regional panel discussion on Literacy and inclusion in Asia – Challenges, opportunities and COVID-19. The Zoom feature of ‘closed captioning’ was introduced during these online sessions to enhance accessibility for people with disability. During the year, Australia Awards staff members also participated in ‘Disability Awareness Training’ to further enhance their ability to support Australia Awards scholars and alumni with disability.

Australian Government support for disability during COVID-19 and beyond

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring that people with disability are included in, and equally benefit from, Australia’s development assistance. Australia’s development strategy, Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response, reaffirms a focus on the most vulnerable, including women and girls, people with disability, and those living in poverty. Australia is working with disability partners to enable people with disability to participate in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts on an equal basis with others.

An important area of focus for Australia Awards is the empowerment of women and the inclusion of people with disability and individuals from disadvantaged social groups. Learn more about Australia Awards’ support for people with disability and other groups.

Image at top of page: Australia Awards scholars from across South and West Asia on-campus at Flinders University.