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Improving Education and Health for People with Deafblindness in Bangladesh

17 October 2017

In Bangladesh people with disabilities, including deafblindness, generally receive very little support from their families and communities. This lack of support can mean people with deafblindness are often excluded from participating in the family environment and in wider society.

To address this, Sense International in partnership with Sense Scotland, Sense International (India), the Centre for Disability in Development and several local partners  set up the project ‘Improving Education and Health for Deafblind People In Bangladesh’, funded by the Scottish Government.

This project takes a holistic approach to address the health and education needs of children and young people with deafblindness, whilst also supporting their parents and other family members. One aspect of the programme is the financial support provided to the young adult with deafblindness to engage in income generation activities. Through engaging in sustainable livelihood activities, people with deafblindness are able to earn an income and financially contribute to the household, which increases their confidence, independence and enables them to become active members of society.

In February staff from our UK programmes team visited Bangladesh to meet some of the children and young adults benefiting from the programme and see how they are progressing. They had the opportunity to meet with Abul Kalam, a young man with acquired deafblindness, who has been supported through income generation activities to set up his own shop.  

Abul Kalam

Abul is sitting in his shop

After buying tickets at a community fair, Abul went to see a cricket match with friends. “When I realised that my friends could see the ball and I couldn’t, I realised that there was a problem”. He spoke to his family of his concerns who were eager to support him. They tried various potential cures, including surgery on his left eye, but there was no improvement. He also noticed hearing loss around the same time and experienced problems with dizziness and navigating his environment. He managed to get a hearing aid about 5 years ago which took a bit of adjusting to, but was still limited by his loss of vision.

When Abul was identified as deafblind, his Deafblind Field Educator, Nazim, first worked with him to support his ‘orientation and mobility’, teaching him how to use his cane and get around as he had done before losing his vision. They then discussed possible employment opportunities and how Nazim could support him. Abul had previously worked in a shop, so he was keen to do something similar and started discussing what his shop could stock. They went together to buy a few simple supplies and worked out strategies to recognise money and different goods. Abul has since added cooking oil, pulses, biscuits and drinks to his range of items on offer. Using a small loan, which Abul has now repaid in full, he purchased a fridge/ freezer in which to stock ice cream and drinks as these sell very well.

Abul is looking at a product in his shop

Abul considers himself independent and goes to the local market to buy supplies alone and brings them back in a rickshaw. If he needs to travel to the larger markets his brother accompanies him for support. He uses his sense of touch to conduct money transactions, feeling the size of the money and matching these to familiar notes that he keeps in his wallet. His family also support him with some record keeping. He aims to expand the shop and would like to build a house in the future.

Below is a video of Abul weighing out some puffed rice (like Rice Krispies). In the middle of the scales there is a lever which points directly upright when the scales are balanced. If the lever presses into the palm of his hand the weights are heavier than the rice, if the lever sways away from the palm, the weight of the rice is heavier than the weights. Sighted people would generally use their eyes to see the lever, but Abul uses his sense of touch.

Simple yet ingenious!


First published: Tuesday 18 June 2013
Last updated: Friday 6 December 2019