Livelihoods model for young people with multi-sensory impairments and complex disabilities


The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the Sustainable Development Goals emphasise the importance of inclusive development and are important guiding frameworks for shaping a future of work inclusive of persons with disabilities. However, evidence shows that young people with multiple-sensory impairments and other complex disabilities are less likely to be in employment. They are often isolated and socially excluded by their communities, exacerbated by lack of engagement with livelihoods activities, and resulting in a poorer quality of life. Increased livelihood opportunities can contribute to economic empowerment but importantly, also promote increased social inclusion and wellbeing of individuals and also their families. Sense International run a number of livelihoods and vocational training programmes across the eight countries we work in globally. 

Sense International conducted a learning review with an external consultant, this review has informed the development of a Theory of Change for the livelihoods work. 

Sense International’s livelihoods work uses multiple approaches including;

  1. Engaging people with MSI/complex disability in stand-alone ‘specialist’ vocational courses.
  2. Inclusion of young people with MSI in mainstream, or specialist disability, technical and vocational education and training institutions (TVETs).
  3. Supporting cooperative style ‘community vocational hubs’ whereby communities work together to strengthen opportunities for young people with MSI and complex disabilities to engage in income generating activities.
  4. Inclusion of young people with MSI/complex disabilities within waged employment settings with formal and informal employers.

The principles that underpin our livelihoods model

Our livelihoods model is underpinned by the following principles and understandings;

  • We recognise the wide-ranging needs not only of young people with multiple sensory impairments(MSI)/complex disabilities but also their families. We believe that our livelihoods work must facilitate stronger networks for families and build social capital within communities. 
  • We believe that one size does not fit all. The broad spectrum of impairment, the severity of impairment and the diverse contexts we work within means our livelihoods work must be context and person specific. Numerous approaches must be used.
  • Building skills and knowledge alone is not enough. Advocacy is an essential pillar in our livelihoods work. We consider engagement with government at all levels essential in order to ensure the sustainability of our approach.
  • A lifecycle approach is needed for livelihoods work. We see investment in early childhood development and education as being vital for improving later opportunities for livelihoods.
  • Applying a gender lens is key in our livelihoods work. We acknowledge that young women are most likely to drop out during periods of transition and therefore need additional support and/or different types of livelihoods opportunities.
  • Access to social protection and other forms of grants and business incentives for people with disabilities, has to be an essential part of the livelihoods journey to facilitate better access to training and markets, and to help address some of the barriers to inclusion.
  • Youth participation is instrumental – we are dedicated to upholding the principle of ‘nothing about us without us’ across our livelihoods work.

More information

For more information or to obtain a copy of the Livelihoods model for young people with multi-sensory impairments and complex disabilities please contact Sense International

Livelihoods Case Study

Sense International run a livelihoods project for youth with deafblindness in Tanzania. Funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, over the course of 3 years the projects will work to improve the livelihoods of 36 young people with deafblindness and their family members through capacity building and the introduction of income-generating activities within the household. Furthermore, the project works to build the commitment of the Government of Tanzania so people with deafblindness have greater access to services and funds.

Some examples of people who are supported through this project include Nnala and Abdallah. Nnala is a 32-year-old young woman, she is Deaf, partially blind, has an intellectual impairment and is also diabetic. She is able to perform a few daily tasks on her own but is heavily dependent on the support of her mother and care assistants. With the support of Sense International Tanzania Nnala and her mother are earning an income from a chicken rearing farm from their home, the project is currently making a reasonable profit. Meanwhile, Abdallah is 31 years old, living with his parents and able to communicate through speaking, sign language, text messages and a hearing aid. With the support of our livelihoods project Abdallah is now running a grocery shop from his house.  These two examples demonstrate how our livelihoods model strives to engage young people in income generating activities in a way that addresses each individual’s unique context.

The Project will run for three years and works to not only empower young people with MSI but also their families. The project also works to build the capacity of young people with MSI to engage in advocacy work so greater awareness is raised to ensure the rights of all young people with disabilities are fully realised in Tanzania.


First published: Friday 15 May 2020
Last updated: Friday 15 May 2020