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AKASA case study: Part 3

In this video, N.G. Kamalawathie describes some of the projects her organisation AKASA has done to create access for women with disabilities.
MAN: FutureLearn. [THEME MUSIC] UNSW Australia. AKASA case study, part three. N.G.
KAMALAWATHIE THROUGH INTERPRETER: AKASA is an association of women with disabilities. We have a board that comprises of women with disabilities. We have one or two women with intellectual disabilities. So their guardians sit on the board. In deciding which projects to implement, or how to implement them, or where to implement them, we don’t make any specific decision as such. What we do is try to include women with disability in whatever activities are going on in the community. It could be a sporting event. It could be recreational event. We try to make sure that those events are inclusive. And we try to do whatever we can to make those events inclusive. So in designing projects, we take a cue from society.
So if there is anything in our society in which we are not being included, we tried to make an intervention there, and we also look at need. If we come across a need, we try to respond to that need in the best way possible.
Ruwanwelisaya is a very famous and significant stupa for Buddhists in Sri Lanka. There was no wheelchair access to this stupa. I spoke to the head monk of the temple, discussed this matter with him, and I was able to ensure that a ramp was introduced to the premises so that anybody using a wheelchair could access the stupa. Subsequently, one day when I went to see whether this ramp was still in use, I found that it had a gate and there was a policeman standing next to it. And since I was in a van, he thought I wasn’t a wheelchair user. And he promptly told me “This is only for persons with disability.
Please move on so if there is a person with disability he or she can use the ramp.” So I felt very proud and happy about my achievement because I realised that the authorities concerned not only introduced the change but were making it sustainable and were marking it out so that wheelchair users could use it. So subsequently, I came back in the wheelchair to use the ramp. I still didn’t tell the policeman that I had been key to introducing the ramp. But I was very happy that the ramp was not only introduced but also being maintained well. Another example is from a rural village in the area where I work.
Once when we went into this particular village there was a woman with a disability. And nobody in the community really spoke well of her. They had ostracised her and sort of cast her out of the community. For about six months, we provided her with assistance and training, and enabled her through a livelihoods project. About two or three years later when we went back to the same village and inquired after her, the villager I spoke to described her as a woman who is carrying out a business on her own. So they spoke of her so positively and with so much respect. And I was very happy, because earlier they had spoken of her in such derogatory terms.
And now the community had changed their perception of her. And I think that’s to do with the fact that we intervened and helped her to be an independent and empowered woman. So those are just two examples I can give you. But there are many more. So what we are saying is that if you give us the opportunity and enable the environment, we can live as everyone else and we can overcome the limitations of our disability. So this is what we are asking for.

In the last step you explored some organisations and individuals who are working to improve accessibility in everyday life. This may be by bringing disabled people together to organise or lobby; by undertaking projects that increase access for those most disadvantaged by ideas of normalcy; or by developing ideas and guidelines that start from disability, rather than assuming it is an “add-on”.

In this step, we look at how AKASA, an association of women with disabilities in rural Sri Lanka, works towards promoting access. You may have already been introduced to AKASA in Weeks 1 and 2 of the course. If not, you might like to look back to get some background into how and why AKASA was formed, and what it seeks to do.

In the above video, Kamala describes how AKASA works to make sure women are included in the community — for example, in ensuring that they have access to sporting and recreational events. She then provides two examples of the work AKASA has done.

Kamala explains how AKASA worked to provide physical access to the Ruwanwelisaya stupa, an important site for Buddhists in Sri Lanka. She also describes how AKASA works to enable women through livelihood projects, and describes one case where they supported a women with a disability to feel empowered in her community. Before the livelihood project, the woman had been ostracised by the community, but afterwards, she was respected as a valuable community member.

We critique different ideas about the contributions of people with disabilities in Week 5.

Talking points

  • Earlier in this week, you learned that access takes many forms. What different forms of access does Kamala describe here?
  • In what ways do you think a person’s perceived value as a community member is linked to the types of access they have?
  • In what ways do Kamala’s examples weave together the ideas we have been developing this week? Was there anything that particularly struck you?

This ends the Basics for Week 3. In the next step, we Expand our interests by examining the accessibility of information and communications technology.

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