Breaking the Barriers: Addressing Disability through Reflect

Country Profile: Bangladesh


156,595,340 (2013)

Poverty (Population living on less than 1 US$ per day)

36% (1990 – 2004)

Official language

Bengali (Bengla)

Total expenditure on education as % of GDP


Youth literacy rate (15 – 24 years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 85.83%
Male: 80.61%
Both sexes: 83.18%

Adult literacy rate (15+ years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 58.49%
Male: 64.57%
Both sexes: 61.55%

Statistical sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleBreaking the Barriers: Addressing Disability through Reflect
Implementing OrganizationActionAid Bangladesh (AAB) in partnership with NGOs and Community Based Disabled People’s Organisations.
Language of InstructionBangla (Bengali), local languages and sign language
Date of Inception2005

Context and Background


Although Bangladesh places high priority on promoting access to Education for All (EFA) as a fundamental human right and as a vehicle for national development, levels of literacy are still very low particularly among the poor. According to UNESCO, the total youth and adult literacy rates were 64 per cent and 47 per cent respectively in 1995 and 2004. The rate was significantly lower (41 per cent) among women during the same period. Overall, it is estimated that about 60 million adult Bangladeshis are illiterate, while every year about seven million children fail to attend school or drop out before completing primary education. While this strongly indicates that a significant proportion of the Bangladeshi population has limited access to quality education, the situation is far worse for people with disabilities.

About eight to ten per cent of the total population or 13.4 million Bangladeshis (3.4 million children and ten million adults) are living with disabilities. Most people with disabilities have limited access to education and skills training due to a combination of factors including: the lack of a coherent national policy and technical support system to address their particular learning/education needs (in fact, people with disabilities are not allowed into the mainstream education programmes and there are only a few state-run institutions catering for them); inadequate education facilities and resources for people with disabilities and special needs, particularly technical equipment and qualified teachers/instructors; and the lack of social support due to poverty and entrenched perceptions of people with disabilities being a burden (on account of this, disabled people are often stigmatised, marginalised or even ostracised by their families). As a result, a recent study estimated that about 1.6 million disabled children await admission into schools at any given time, while the government is able to enrol only 1,335 in 78 institutions across the country. Another 10,000 to 15,000 children attend education programmes provided by about 400 non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

In light of this and recognising that education is a fundamental human right for all, as well as a key instrument of development and social empowerment, ActionAid-Bangladesh (AAB) initiated the Breaking the Barriers: Addressing Disability through Reflect programme. It aims to assist people with disabilities to gain access to quality education, government services, natural resources, and to empower them by creating a disability-friendly society which ensures their rights.

Breaking the Barriers: Addressing Disability through Reflect Programme

The programme was developed following research entitled Reflect and Disability: Break the Barriers, which was undertaken in 2005 by AAB in cooperation with local partner organisations: GBS, GBSS, UTSA, YPSA, MUF, AISEDAP, SSDP and CSID. The study revealed that, not only were the particular needs of and issues affecting people with disabilities generally ignored in the national development agenda, but also that their well-being was often treated as a matter of welfare rather than as a fundamental human right. On the other hand, people with disabilities lacked the means to advocate for, and claim their rights as citizens. As such, little formal effort was been made to effectively address their basic needs with regards to access to basic social services including education, skills training and sustainable livelihood opportunities. In addition, the study also revealed that due to high rates of illiteracy and lack of vocational skills among people with disabilities, most of them were forced to depend entirely on their families or on begging for their livelihood.

Based on the results of the study and in order to address the challenges faced by people with disabilities and in particular, to enable them to lead independent lives, AAB and its partners have been implementing the Breaking the Barriers programme in seven districts using the Reflect approach since 2005. As implied by the title, the programme principally endeavours to empower people with disabilities by removing socioeconomic and cultural barriers to their development as well as by creating an environment supportive of inclusive social progress. To this end, the programme promotes the social empowerment of people with disabilities through:

Both the programme and the use of the Reflect approach are based on the basic principle that the sustainability and effectiveness of individual and national development largely depends on the active participation of the people themselves. Since its inception, the programme has benefited 1150 learners with disabilities, principally women and children.

Aims and Objectives

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

Training of Facilitators

The programme is implemented through a network of Reflect circle facilitators. Before commencing their duties, AAB organised professional training for the facilitators in non-formal education, Reflect teaching methodologies, management and organisation as well as on development issues and Reflect and disability. The training of facilitators (ToF) workshops lasted a total of 13 days and thereafter, ongoing refresher ToF workshops were conducted. Each facilitator is assigned a Reflect circle (s) or group of learners with about 25 members and is paid US$175 per annum.

Teaching-Learning Methodologies

Teaching and Learning is conducted through Reflect circles. Since the inception of the programme, 46 Reflect circles have been established. Each circle has an average of 15 to 25 people with disabilities who meet two or three times a week. These meetings are used to enable participants to talk about their experiences and about issues affecting them, as well as to practice literacy and numeracy skills through the mediation of facilitators. Reflect circle facilitators predominantly use learner-centred and participatory teaching methods and a variety of teaching-learning aids, including audiovisuals, calendars, social maps, Venn diagrams, mobility maps, resource maps, flower analysis and other local resources which could be adapted for learning purposes. These strategies are intended to stimulate learner participation in order to enhance their capacity to acquire literacy and critical thinking skills.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Ongoing internal evaluation exercises, which are conducted through official programme field visits and quarterly programme review and planning workshops, have revealed the following impacts:



Ibrahim Hossain, a 16-year-old physically impaired boy who uses a wheelchair, recently attended the National Games for the Disabled. On the sports day Ibrahim said, ‘Before getting in touch with CSID [an AAB partner], I was begging in the street. I used to come to beg here in front of the gate of the National Women's Sports Complex and think, “Oh! If I could play like them.” I felt so depressed! Today I am happy and proud that I got an opportunity to play in this ground and win first prize in the wheelchair race and second prize in the shot-put event.’ In the year 2001, CSID identified Ibrahim while he was begging on the street. He became a member of self-advocacy group of Street and Working Children with Disabilities and developed leadership abilities. It was found that he didn't like begging at all, but he was being bound to do it by family pressure. CSID enrolled him in a vocational skills development centre and he learnt leather-making crafts. Then CSID provided him economical support to start a small shop on the street. Now he is running his business well and said, ‘I will never go back to begging even if my family leaves me.’ Ibrahim is happy with his work. At the same time he is participating in the child rights movements, NPA process and different socio-cultural activities as a member of the self-advocacy group of Street and Working Children with Disabilities. He also participated in the International Congress of Young Disabled People held in Wales, UK.


The following are key indicators of programme sustainability:

Lessons Learned



Mohammad Zakir Hossain Sarker
Manager- Reflect Development Unit (RDU)
ActionAid Bangladesh
House # 08, Road # 136, Gulshan-01, Dhaka- 1212
Tel: +88 02 88 37 77 96
Email: zakir.sarker (at); lawforpoor (at)

Last update: 7 April 2011