From a simple, sheltered workshop catering solely to job training, to a full-fledged center that offers a wide variety of empowering programmes, the APD has come a long way. A really, really long way. While this isn’t unusual for any organization that’s been around for close to half-a-century, what’s remarkable is that it has pulled itself through all its lows. And the APD has had an unusual share of lows – from premise-issues, to transport-issues, to disloyalty of staff, to union strikes, to near bankruptcy and more. But there seems to be no stopping this organization from providing for all needs for those with disabilities. It is no wonder then the APD has become a leader in the field of disability today and their center at Lingarajapuram has become a prominent landmark in the city of Bangalore.
Despite spending a full 2 days with the team at APD, we could only manage a very quick tour of all the facilities. The first day was spent at the bustling Lingarajapuram center meeting beneficiaries undergoing industrial training, interacting with hearing impaired students at the integrated school, watching children undergo physiotherapy, and being amazed by the artificial limb-measuring and manufacturing process for those in need of the same. (We were also scheduled to meet some of the spinal injury beneficiaries but after few hours at the Integrated school, we decided we did not have enough courage to stomach the same and gave it a pass.) The next day, we drove down to the serene horticulture center.
A distinct feature of the Association is its professionalism. So distinct that you tend to forget you’re at a nonprofit as you take a tour around its premises. But this can only be a good thing –given that its founding generation has passed on (or will soon be doing so). The professionalism, which ensures processes and people are in place, will ensure that its work continues…for many years to come. And the organization will, in all likelihood, continue to be a leader in the space.
But, it is need, more than anything else, that has led the APD to begin most of its programmes. Starting with the integrated primary school that is attended by both disabled and non-disabled children; which was begun in response to the recognition that literacy and basic education are essential for learning sought after skills and for job acquisition. To the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) programme for rural areas, which was started in the hope of reducing the incidence of disability and preventing it from becoming a de-capacitating handicap. And just as the lengthy wait for mobility aids often undid corrective surgery, the lack of trained physiotherapists led to slow recovery their patients’ from surgery – which eventually led to the setting-up of the orthotic and physiotherapy unit.
The story behind the start of the horticulture center is also an interesting one. It all started in 1982 when an article in an OXFAM newsletter caught Hema’s eye. It spoke of a scheme in Frome, Somerset, England, for horticultural therapy for people with many sorts of disability. So, when a friend cum supporter of Hema’s, Murray Culshaw, was visiting the UK, she requested him to meet with the author of the article – Chris Underhill. While Culshaw returned with much useful information, within a short period of time, HT in Frome sent a young horticulturist, Peter Macfadyen, to do a feasibility study. He also shared photos of his own work at his Cornwall centre, and amazed the APD team, other NGOs and government officials with results of the work that even severely disabled people could do. In 1987, the horticultural training project finally became a reality.
Till date, the Association shows no signs of slowing down. Whole-hearted efforts are yet being dedicated to take the Horticultural Programme, which is aimed at overcoming the limitations of the Association’s earlier skill training programme, to higher levels. Efforts are also on to get disabled children admitted within the ordinary school system, and to raise awareness among businesses and employers that many disabled people can do many jobs as competently and responsibly as non-disabled persons – and sometimes more so.