The editor of a Bangla newspaper believes disabilities are not a barrier despite being physically challenged since childhood because of muscular dystrophy.
Sabrina Sultana concedes that her younger years were difficult, but thanks her family for supporting her every endeavour.
She is now the editor of Oporajeyo, a quarterly published newspaper that specialises in the rights of people with disabilities, and aims to increase awareness of the situation of people with disabilities in every aspect of life.
“Disability is an issue that needs to be covered, as physically challenged people are still excluded from society,” Sabrina told the Dhaka Tribune.
“Creating social awareness through newspapers can play a vital role to give a voice to the voiceless. That is what inspires me to carry on with the journey. The newspaper offers a platform to people with disabilities around the country to talk about their rights.”
It has been five rollercoaster years since Oporajeyo was first published in December 2012. The eight-page colour newspaper costs Tk10 and publishes news reports, articles, features, and opinions relevant to people with disabilities.
Financed by Bangladesh Society for Change and Advocacy Nexus (B-SCAN), 5,000 copies of every edition are printed and circulated in government ministries and non-government organisations who work on human rights and rights of people with disabilities, all social welfare district offices, and 103 integrated disability service centres around the country.
Mohidul Islam, a general member of B-SCAN, was the first editor of Oporajeyo before transferring the role to Sabrina.
“I am not someone who has experience in journalism. I have gathered experience from writing blogs, and through training in a basic journalism course organised by Protibondhi Nagorik Shangathaner Parishad in early 2013, right after our first publication,” Sabrina said.
“I ask people with disabilities to write for the newspaper, and also help them in finishing their assignment.”
A total of 20 editions of Oporajeyo have been published by B-SCAN, and the publisher, reporters, contributors, graphics designers and distributors are all people with disabilities.
A communication firm, Chayakor, assists with the layout but the majority of people involved with the newspaper work voluntarily, or for a small remuneration. Sabrina explained that she is working within a shoestring budget, as it is difficult to attract advertisers to the newspaper.
“When known people refer us for advertisement, only then we can approach. Support from Corporate Social Responsibility can also play a vital role here. The money I have now, I can only continue this for a year only,” she said.
“If I cannot continue publishing this newspaper, I will remain happy that I have tried to take this forward. It might lack professionalism but it creates an opportunity to be empowered and raise voice against violation of rights of people with disabilities.”
Sabrina started blogging in her teenage years and has been engaged with it since. She received media attention when her blog was selected for an international competition, losing out by only two votes.
During interviews and sharing her success story of being a vocal proponent for more rights and facilities for the disabled in Bangladesh, Sabrina requested many media outlets to introduce a special page for them.
“After the blogger competition in 2011, I asked many of them [print media] to introduce a special page on disability at least once a month, but no one did. So, I decided to do it with own initiatives, without any experience in journalism.
“I had started my journey with help of some well-wishers and the first edition of the newspaper was published on the occasion of International Day of Disabled Persons in 2012,” Sabrina said.
The International Day of Disabled Persons was established by the UN in 1992, and is observed on December 3. It aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for the dignity, rights and well-being of people with disabilities.
“When a person with a disability passes an exam and writes using a leg or gets really good marks, then they get really good coverage, at least once in a year on the occasion of International Day of Disabled Persons,” Sabrina said.