The course that changed my life – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 26 July, 2014

The course that changed my life
by Peter Tan. Posted on July 26, 2014, Saturday

MY involvement with Disability Equality Training (DET) began in 2005, when I attended the first Training of Trainers course organised in Malaysia. This course was for disabled people who wanted to become DET trainers and conduct workshops for the public.

As a greenhorn with scant understanding about disability issues other than my own experience as a disabled person for 21 years, I went with an open mind and came out richer in knowledge. I attended subsequent courses to learn more on the finer points of conducting these workshops.

Disability is not a subject one can fully comprehend in just a few days of learning. The first course opened my eyes. It was not an easy journey after that as the new-found knowledge I gained gave rise to even more questions about my identity in relation to my impairments. It took me many more years of trying to make sense of what I had learnt to realise I have a rightful place as an equal in society.

DET provides a logical explanation on why people are disabled. It propounds disability as a social issue, inequality and discrimination instead of functional issues of individuals. There is no correlation between impairment and disability. People do not become disabled just because they cannot walk or cannot see.

When I had it all figured out, I became empowered and recognised that the difficulties I face every day are of social construct. I am disabled because of man-made barriers, prejudices and lack of reasonable accommodation. For example, before the course, I used to think that I could not go out because I could not walk. Now, I realise that my mobility outside is restricted by the lack of an accessible built environment and public transport.

This change of mindset may seem easy to achieve but the truth is that many disabled people have difficulty making the paradigm shift. The years of being subtly programmed to accept their impairments as the cause of the problems they face make them resistant to accept this notion because it challenges the very core of their beliefs.

In either of the Training of Trainers course or public workshops, we as trainers do not impose our values regarding disability on the participants. We facilitate. We guide. And we trust that each and every one of them have the innate ability to understand the causes of disability through a process of critical thinking and self-discovery, if not during the course, then any time after the course.

This is a more effective learning experience as compared to feeding them with answers which they may never be able to remember soon afterwards. What is important is that we have planted the seeds of change in them that will eventually grow and flourish.

DET is not purely knowledge-based. It emphasises more on actions and outcomes. It recognises that people generally do not set out to discriminate intentionally. It is done out of ignorance of the needs of disabled people.

DET supports participants to move from ignorance to becoming change agents and make society inclusive through the implementation of action plans they draw up themselves.

I have no regrets spending the last 10 years of my life in pursuit of knowledge and skills on DET. My outlook on life has changed for the better. If anything, I have become confident of who I am. I have stopped seeing my impairments as impediments. Consequently I developed a positive self-esteem and a sense of self-worth. Most of all, I find it most fulfilling when I am able to make my participants see the reality of disability and realising that they too can play a part in removing societal barriers.

I am glad I stuck at it although the 10-day courses were tough on me mentally and physically. As I look back, I can see how much I have grown. From one who was searching for my place in this world, I have now graduated to conducting Training of Trainers course to cultivate a new generation of trainers. Personally, I have learnt to be a better listener and be non-judgemental, two important attributes DET trainers must possess.

As such, I strongly encourage disabled people who are interested in making a difference to their own lives and in society to seriously consider participating in the Training of Trainers course that the Welfare Department and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) is organising for trainers and senior trainers in January next year.

The courses will be held at the Training Institute of the National Council of Welfare and Social Development Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. Participation is limited to 16 for trainers and four for senior trainers. The senior trainers course is for DET trainers who have completed previous Jica DET courses. Application is also open to international participants. This is to be the last DET course funded by Jica under the Project to Support Participation of Persons with Disabilities – Phase 2.

General information and application forms can be found at

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A matter of perspective – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 8 February, 2014

A matter of perspective
by Peter Tan. Posted on February 8, 2014, Saturday

Participants and trainers are seen during a session.

MALAYSIA is the unlikely hub for the rapid growth of the Training of Trainers on Disability Equality Training (TOT DET) course outside of the United Kingdom where it originated. I say ‘unlikely’ because Malaysia is not a model of inclusiveness when it comes to matters regarding disability.

Although we have the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 and have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, attitudinal and environmental barriers are still prevalent. These barriers prevent disabled people from meaningful participation in society; all the more reason why DET is needed to change prejudiced mindsets and break disabling barriers in this country.

I took a hiatus from writing for this column to participate in a national-level TOT DET course held in Kuala Lumpur in January. It was organised by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) and the Welfare Department.

There were 11 trainees altogether; seven from Malaysia and two each from Rwanda and Uzbekistan. The foreign participants had requested to be included in the training as they were very keen on implementing DET in their own countries.

During the 10-day course spread over two weeks, the trainees learnt to become effective DET trainers by gaining comprehensive understanding of the Social Model of Disability. They also learnt delivery skills by practising facilitation and presentation techniques. In turn, they are expected to implement DET as disability education for the public and as empowerment for other disabled people upon completion of the course.

Three senior trainers and I worked closely together by taking turns to be facilitators and co-facilitators under the watchful guidance of Dr Kenji Kuno, who developed the modules we are currently using. He is the senior advisor on Social Security (Disability) for Jica. This course was an important training for us as well in the run up to the international level TOT DET that will be held in Malaysia next year.

I have attended several other training sessions that stretched over two to three weeks but none were as tough as this. Likewise, my fellow facilitators were thoroughly exhausted by the third day of training. I had barely three hours of sleep each night as I prepared for the sessions I was responsible for. Teaching was tough but ensuring that the trainees really learnt was even tougher. That was the part that wore us out most.

There were moments when my body and mind felt like giving up. This was the same sentiment the other facilitators experienced. We were pushed to our limits. In the end, we were glad we hung on to conclude the course as we were able to learn the finer points of DET and the methods to deliver it even more effectively, be it as trainers or as facilitators.

DET was developed in the 1980s to address the need to provide information on disability away from the traditional perspective that impairments are the reason for exclusion in all aspects. It utilises the Social Model of Disability as a heuristic process to identify the locations that cause participation restriction and promote proactive actions to solve them.

The Social Model was developed from principles instituted by the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (Upias), an organisation established in 1972 to advance disability rights in the United Kingdom. In its founding statement, Upias asserts that disability is imposed on top of impairments by systemic barriers that unnecessarily isolate and exclude people from full participation in society.

Dr Kuno introduced DET to Malaysia in 2005 as part of a three-year project on Capacity Building on Social Welfare Services for Disabled People. This project was jointly implemented by Jica and the Welfare Department. He was the chief advisor for the project in Malaysia then.

In its subsequent incarnations under Phase I and II of the Project to Support Participation of Persons with Disabilities and other Jica projects on disability worldwide, 192 people from 28 countries across the Asia Pacific, Africa and Latin America successfully completed the course to become DET trainers and members of DET Forum, a platform for networking and sharing of resources between trainers.

There are currently 37 DET trainers in Malaysia. Out of this number, only a handful are actively working as trainers. I was made to understand that the Welfare Department has plans to organise the TOT DET course on annual basis to increase the pool of trainers. This can only be good news as more trainers translates into more opportunities to reach out to society seeing that demand for DET workshops have been increasing steadily of late.

At the moment, government agencies, institutions of higher learning and statutory bodies are the mainstay of DET workshops. We are looking into expanding to more government bodies and private sector organisations seeking to create an inclusive environment for their workforce and clients.

DET is not the panacea to solve all issues on disability. However, it is an effective educational tool that reframes disability into a social perspective instead of focusing it on the individual. It complements other advocacy efforts by explicating disability in a structured, logical and non-confrontational way.

Personally, having been involved in various forms of advocacy activities on disability rights for the past nine years, I am truly convinced that DET can indeed effect change if implemented correctly, not only in society but a change of paradigm in the way disabled people view themselves and their impairments in relation to society.

Readers can find out more about DET at

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.

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The Game Changer – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 4 May, 2013

The game changer
by Peter Tan. Posted on May 4, 2013, Saturday

WHEN I first got involved in disability rights activism, I often wondered how I could be more effective in pushing for changes. What could I do to make a society that is typically reactive become one that is proactive?

It cannot be denied that disability is an issue that is often ignored and misunderstood by society. At the same time, disabled people have not been able to articulate with conviction that disability is not caused by the impairments of individuals.

In that aspect, explaining what disability is had always been a problem for me. For a long time, I sought ways and means to put it in plain words that the general public could understand easily.

I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to attend four Disability Equality Training (DET) workshops. Dr Kenji Kuno, the expert on disability from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, facilitated the latter two workshops.

He understood that disseminating knowledge is equally as important as acquiring it. The training modules that he devised prepared trainers to deliver the contents effectively and reinforced their knowledge on disability matters at the same time. What I learnt from these workshops formed the foundation of my perspective on disability.

There are two components to DET. The first is to understand the meaning of disability. Participants are encouraged to apply critical analysis to a series of problem-posing exercises. It is through these processes that they are able to discover the root causes of the problems.

However, knowledge without application is meaningless. That is why in the second and equally important component of DET, participants are facilitated to develop action plans and become active partners in breaking social barriers.

Since then, I have facilitated DET workshops using this method with much success. Participants left the workshop enlightened on disability issues and were determined to transform society by becoming change agents themselves.

Just last week, I had the privilege to facilitate a one-day workshop for about 20 participants comprising of doctors, occupational therapists, educators and parents of children with cerebral palsy.

It was a collaborative effort between four outfits, namely the Malaysian Advocates for Cerebral Palsy, Welfare Department, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and DET Forum Malaysia.

This workshop had been in the works since late last year. It had to be postponed several times as I was rather busy during the first quarter and we could not find a mutually suitable date then.

The objective of this workshop was to open the mind of participants to alternative perspectives in dealing with disability issues. From seeing disabled people themselves as the cause of the problems, participants were facilitated to discover that systemic barriers in society are the actual cause.

For example, we like to build stairs that hinder the movement of wheelchair users. Ramps would serve the same purpose and provide easy access to everyone, including wheelchair users but for one reason or another, people continue to build stairs.

We analysed the differences between the Individual Model of Disability and Social Model of Disability. The Individual Model focuses on the impairments of the individuals and sees rehabilitation as the solution in making the person ‘normal’ again.

The Social Model, which the DET is hinged on, establishes that disability is caused by attitudinal and environmental barriers. People build barriers that prevent other people from meaningful participation in society.

The way to resolve this issue is to make reasonable accommodation. This means that where possible, facilities and services should be made accessible. The Persons with Disabilities Act includes this term to ensure that the quality of life and well-being of disabled people in Malaysia are equal to those enjoyed by non-disabled people.

One of the modules for this workshop was on Independent Living. I specifically shared a video on how it is being practised in Japan. The participants saw that people with extreme impairments are able to live in the community with the support of personal assistants.

Independent Living is a good example of how reasonable accommodation improves the quality of life of disabled people and preserves their dignity at the same time. The parents were visibly moved by the video. There were requests to organise a follow-up the workshop on this topic.

The highlight of the day was the presentation of action plans. This was also the session that I enjoyed most, albeit with some trepidation. It was a measure of the participants’ level of understanding as well as a reflection of my facilitation skills.

As most of the participants were parents or professionals working with disabled children, the action plans naturally leaned towards education. Most schools neither have accessible amenities nor sufficient trained staff to support disabled students.

I am certain that the participants, being direct stakeholders, will be able to carry through with their action plans of lobbying the schools and the relevant government agencies for the increase of manpower as a first step towards making the respective schools more inclusive.

This workshop and the many that I have facilitated in the past have proven that DET is an effective tool in promoting the understanding of disability among disabled and non-disabled people and move them to become allies in making society accessible and inclusive.

At the moment, I am one of only a handful of DET trainers in Malaysia. It is my hope that in time there will be sufficient trainers to facilitate DET workshops throughout the country so that change can happen quicker.

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