People with autism and other neuro developmental disabilities can live a dignified life. One Bangladeshi woman is on a mission to build a system that will make this possible
Sajida Rahman Danny founded PFDA – Vocational Training Centre (VTC) in 2014. She had been frustrated with the absence of any kind of system in the country that ensures inclusion of people with neurological disabilities in the wider society. Sajida Danny knew this first hand from raising a son with autism.
She found VTC as a stepping stone toward creating a system which that will make it possible for people with autism and other neurocognitive disabilities to live without being considered a burden for other people.
By 2021, seven years since its founding, VTC has come quite far. Along the way, it achieved a lot of what it wanted to achieve. It began as a vocational training institution for young adult and adults with neurocognitive disabilities. The training centre has managed to establish a number of successful programs that help its students develop skills in areas where they have the most potential. It employment program then find jobs for them.
Sajida — known as ‘Danny apa’ to her colleagues, students and their guardians — recently received the Acumen Fellowship for her leadership role as the chairman of VTC. The model Sajida developed at VTC has been selected to be tested for replicability by The Zero Project, an international organization that work on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) of the United Nations, and operates in over 150 countries.
PFDA-VTC Trust did not follow any traditional academic model to support and develop its student, said Sajida Danny. It developed its own model through ‘learning by doing’. To develop this “comprehensive and holistic model” VTC studied best practices around the world. “Best practice models from Japan and Australia were analyzed to adopt them in the context of Bangladesh,” said Sajida.
The model is based on the premise that each and every person has quality, in their own domain. There is a diverse range of qualities among people with autism and other neuro-developmental disabilities (NDD). The objective behind innovating context-appropriate methods and incorporating them into a system, says Sajida, is to bring out the quality of each individual and nurture the associated neurological, behavioural problems and rehabilitate them in the mainstream workforce.
At VTC, Sajida also developed an effective job placement model. Under this model the persons with disabilities (PWD) go into three different pathways. Sheltered employment is for people who can do certain works but require assistance due to behavioral, sensory, motor skill or other issues.
Wages employment is persons who can perform their job in work area or office. At this moment PWDs under this model are working at Dhaka Airport, Bangladesh Tourism Corporation, different offices, hotels and restaurants, coffee shops, and in retail chain shops.
The third is self-employment. Many PWDs have potential and interest to earn, but unable to pursue it because of inability to effectively communicate or due to absence of a support system. PFDA-VTC have provided this group the necessary support so they can work from home and become entrepreneurs.
Sajida laments the lack of infrastructure in the country that can support PWDs. “Without government’s effort you cannot scale up any model. NGOs and donors can’t do it,” she said.
Developed countries legislated inclusiveness and created a system where PWDs have safety and security. Without creating that inclusion is not possible, said Sajida. “But that’s not likely to happen in Bangladesh anytime soon. So, through VTC, I’m trying to create a small environment where this is possible,” she said.
Even though the PFDA-VTC has achieved a lot, Sajida is not content unless she reaches the ultimate goal. “Since I started this I have had this tunnel vision toward one goal. That people with these disabilities will be able to have a dignified life. And that vision will never change,” she said.