In 2014, the Myanmar disability community formed the first national level cross-disability organization. The establishment of Myanmar Council of Persons with Disabilities (MCPD) was the main outcome of a historic national conference that brought together over 500 persons with disabilities from all states and divisions in Myanmar.
The formation of MCPD was driven by the disability community’s interest in creating one umbrella organization to advocate for the adoption of a disability law in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). To this end, 17 Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs) created a “Working Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” (WCRPD) and developed a concept to hold a national level conference to elect the umbrella organization.
In collaboration with World Learning, a disability law and policy consultant with the U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD) provided direct technical support to the newly formed Working Committee in organizing and implementing the first ever Myanmar National Disability Conference in June 2014 in Yangon. Leading DPOs were engaged early to get their input on expanding the engagement of of local, regional, and national disability groups, with particular attention to identifying organizations representing all disability communities. These stakeholders were then invited to attend the conference, and the list continued to grow as word of mouth of the national conference spread. Many of these participants received stipends to cover travel and lodging costs to ensure representation in the conference.
More than 500 participants with disabilities from all regions and states met at the Myanmar National Disability Conference to discuss the barriers that people with disabilities face, and to create a national cross-disability coalition. The conference sessions covered topics related to disability rights and promoted the adoption of a national level disability law that is in line with the CRPD. Sessions about the purpose of the National Council, election procedures, and the candidates were integrated throughout the conference so participants could have an opportunity to ask questions and understand their options before participating in elections. At the end of the conference, participants elected the 21 members of the newly formed National Council who represented persons with all types of disabilities, including officers such as the chair. Participants voted to dissolve the Working Committee and transfer responsibility for coalition building to the National Council.
Another important outcome of the conference was the Myanmar National Disability Conference Declaration, which provided an agreed upon framework around which all participating DPOs could focus their advocacy efforts. The declaration represents the will of the participants and has been used by the National Council as a guide in coordinating advocacy efforts across diverse organizations and regions.
Providing Accommodations for Disabled Participants was Key
Providing reasonable accommodations for the disabilities of all participants was important to the success of the conference. Some examples of accommodating disabilities during the conference included:
- Ensuring that the location was wheelchair accessible.
- Providing any printed materials in large print, braille, audio, and/or electronic formats so blind participants can access them.
- Using both sign language interpreters for signing deaf participants and also live transcription projected onto a screen so deaf participants could understand the proceedings. Eight sign language interpreters translated into three different signed languages.
- Elections provided participants with a choice of paper or electronic ballots; electronic ballots could be either all visual or else could be provided in audio format for people with vision disabilities.
See the page on Inclusive Training Activities for more guidance on making conferences or training sessions accessible to participants with a wide range of disabilities.
The National Council's First Steps
In the National Council’s first year, they developed a five-year strategic plan and successfully advocated for the adoption of a national disability law that was signed into law on June 5, 2015.
The following activities helped create an important foundation for the National Council:
- Taking the time to develop a strategic plan to serve as a shared vision for the diverse membership and define what activities are appropriate to the National Council.
- Collaborating with USICD to hold a series of CRPD trainings that were open to the broader community. This further established the National Council’s profile as a community leader and convener, and facilitated stakeholder input on areas for national attention, such as awareness raising in society. Trainings were also important in helping advocates understand the rights protected in the CRPD, how to make legislation more consistent with the CRPD, and their own role in monitoring implementation.
- Convening a National Council executive committee to advocate to the national government as it formulated legislation to implement the CRPD. Committee activities included drafting law commentary and meeting with relevant government ministries.
- Submitting requests for funding to key donor organizations to conduct activities that were appropriate to a national-level umbrella DPO, such as monitoring national human rights and preparing alternative reports to the United Nations CRPD Committee.
David Morrissey is the Executive Director of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD). USICD has been providing technical assistance and training to Myanmar disability leaders as they establish MCPD. USICD works to promote the rights and full participation of persons with disabilities through global engagement and United States foreign affairs. The membership of USICD has a vision of a world where the equal rights of persons with disabilities are protected and advanced, where the capacities and talents of persons with disabilities are celebrated and elevated, and where people with disabilities come together across borders as a global disability community.