Short Quotes by David Werner on Community-Based Rehabilitation

In the July 1989 issue of “Independent Living,” David Werner, a disabled community organizer and rehabilitation expert, author of Where There Is No Doctor and Disabled Village Children among others, describes several innovative examples of Third World projects run by disabled people themselves producing rehabilitation services and assistive devices as income generating projects. He writes:

“While many exciting and innovative things are happening in programs for disabled persons in developing countries, my general impression is that there are only a very few programs in which disabled persons themselves play a leading role. In most of the programs I visited, whether government, religious or private, disabled persons tend to become the objects rather than subjects. Disabled persons are acted upon and not the actors in the process. Too often emphasis is on ‘normalizing’ the disabled persons into an unfair social order rather than on organizing disabled people in a struggle for a fairer more just society.”
“The Organization of Disabled Revolutionaries, ORD, in Nicaragua, is a group of mostly spinal cord injured young persons who came together over a common need: wheelchairs. With the increase of disabled persons resulting from the war against the Somoza dictatorship (and more recently against the Contras), the lack of a wheelchair factory in Nicaragua, and the difficulties of importing wheelchairs due to the United States embargo, the shortage was severe. Two disabled North Americans, Ralf Hotchkiss and Bruce Curtis, helped ORD set up a small wheelchair factory to design and produce low-cost high-quality, for use on rough terrain, wheelchairs. Now the so-called ‘whirlwind’ steel tube wheelchair is being produced by small collectives of disabled workers in various countries of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. ORD has also branched out into different fields and is beginning to organize disabled people throughout Nicaragua.”
“The Center for Rehabilitation of the paralyzed (CRP) in Bangladesh. In the CRP severely disabled persons, mostly from spinal cord injury and severe polio, play key roles in leadership, administration, designing, teaching, income generation and other activities of the program. Working from wheelchairs and gurneys, the disabled workers make a wide variety of rehabilitation aids and hospital equipment.”
“Programs and equipment for disabled persons in developing countries often suffer from the imposition of Western medical and rehabilitation.”

Publication Information


Excerpt, published in the July 1989 issue of “Independent Living.”