Disabled but independent – ICA Chile partners with Community Councils of Disability

ICA Chile has worked with disabled people through Community Councils of Disability over the last 11 years. Each Council may have as many as 17 groups of people with various disabilities such as muscular problems, deafness, blindness or mental disabilities.

Our aim is to help these organisations with planning methods. We guide them in identifying the blocks preventing them from realising their vision and in creating the strategies and projects to reach their goals.

We were inspired by the participative community development methods of the Institute of Cultural Affairs, the Technology of Participation. We have appreciated the training we received from the ICA Chile team that carried out the Sol de September  project and from colleagues such as Lawrence Philbrook (ICA Taiwan) and Bill Staples (ICA Associates Canada).

We have worked with Community Councils of Disability in cities such as Osorno, Freire, Temuco, Villarrica, Concepción, Curanilahue, Rancagua, Easter Island, Santiago, Quillota, Teno, Mulchen, Lampa, Calama Copiapo and Vallenar. The courses were funded through government state projects supported by bodies such as the Social Development Ministry, National Service for the Disabled, and the Training and Work Service.

The method we used is a simplified Participatory Strategic Planning method with the following steps:

  • Vision (past, present and future).
  • Blocks to future dreams.
  • Solutions to deal with the blocks.
  • Big strategies to follow, defined by the group.
  • Definition of small projects.

In their evaluations, the participants said ours was the only course where they could participate as equals and where they weren’t regarded as “a pitiful disabled person”. They compared these to other training events where they had to listen to boring expositions that taught them nothing. They felt that in our courses, their opinions and participation were valued and that they arrived at a clear consensus on what to do as a group.

Listening to the accounts of disabled people all across Chile made an impact on us. We learnt that in the past they were not counted as productive, were invisible, hidden in their logging places and depended on others to survive. Now they have their own organisation and projects – an important change.

In Freire, a small town in southern Chile, we worked with Mapuches, an Aboriginal people. Almost all of them suffered from vision disabilities and many were illiterate. During the course, we organised them into groups, each with at least one literate person who could write down the ideas that emerged in their discussions. We also had a big participative workshop with all 24 of them. They identified the blocks they faced, talked about how to solve them and what strategies to use. We taped the sessions and put them on a CD and a pen drive for each participant. We used a Word Program that they could access later with a special computing system for the blind named JAWS (Job Access With Speech).

We did a follow up through our contacts in Facebook. They said they had implemented at least one projects –  completing their schooling, a requirement for working in any state enterprise.

This process has been relevant for disabled people. It gave them the opportunity to participate and define their own solutions despite illiteracy and impaired vision. They empowered themselves and are involved in programmes that they have developed.

One of our problems is the lack of a systematic follow up to the courses we have held across Chile. Still, tools such as Facebook and e-mail help us keep in touch with people from the various organizations that we have worked with. We plan to continue these activities with a better evaluation and follow up system.


ICA Chile PELPPhoto above: Members of the Mapuche community in Freire, many of them blind, displaying the certificates issued at the end of the course.

Edward Christensen is a member of ICA Chile’s Board of Directors. The agronomist is well versed in using ToP methods in participatory community development work. Isabel de la Maza, a teacher, is Director of the Board. She has extensive experience as a consultant in participatory community development and in working with disabled people. This article was translated with help from Amanda Urrutia.

This post was first published in Winds and Waves, September 2015. See also PELP ICA Chile on Youtube (image right).