Hesperian Health Guides

Learning Skills for an Active or Productive Role in the Community

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HealthWiki > Disabled Village Children > Chapter 54: Work: Possibilities and Training > Learning Skills for an Active or Productive Role in the Community

Children using hands and feet to do things.
In Melkote, India, the Janapada Seva Trust teaches disabled village children many productive skills. Here, a boy without hands uses his foot to draw greeting cards, which are later sold.

Development of the mind

Learning skills that require more mental than physical activity can help the physically disabled child to gain a place in the community.

For development of skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, when possible, it is usually best that the disabled child go to school. Ideas for helping the child get to school and be accepted there are discussed in Chapters 47 and 53. If the child cannot go to school, figure out ways for her to be taught at home—perhaps by schoolchildren.
As soon as the child learns to read and write, try to buy or borrow simple, interesting, and educational books. With these the child can develop her mind further.

Girl in wheelchair gives a book to man, speaking with him.
In a village, a young person who learns to read and write can become a ‘librarian’ and sharer of information.
You keep bees—right, Tonio? I have a booklet that shows how you can re-use the combs and produce more honey.
But I can't read!
That's all right. I'll read it to you.

Starting a village library is often an excellent idea. In fact, a disabled young person may be able to become the village ‘librarian’—and a non-formal educator. To open up other possibilities, help your village recognize both the needs and value of disabled and other disadvantaged persons (such as single mothers). When deciding who to choose for public service jobs and community responsibilities, try to make it a village policy to consider choosing persons who have disabilities or special needs.
Although they are sometimes unable to do hard physical farm work, disabled persons can often make outstanding health workers, cooperative administrators, shop keepers, librarians, ‘cultural promoters’, or child care center coordinators—if they are given the chance.

Adaptations for farm work and gardening

Persons with weakness in their lower bodies but who have strong arms and hands can learn a wide variety of work skills where they can sit and use their hands. (See list of skills.) However, for many villagers, the growing of food is central to their lives.

If certain adaptations are made, disabled villagers can often help with farming and gardening. Here are a few suggestions.

Aids for Crawling

Elevated Gardens

Boy using knee and hand support, uses free hand to work with plant.
knee pads—from pieces of old rubber tire padded inside
hand walker
Woman in wheelchair works on elevated garden.
family garden elevated for work from wheelchair (Notice the elevated garden outside the ‘model home’ in the photo on "Adapting the Home and Community".)

Hand support attached to gardening tool.
hand walker attached to garden trowel


Getting to distant fields over rough trails may be difficult for the young person who cannot walk. A simple carrying frame can be used to carry the child and also the tools and grain.
Two people carry girl who holds agricultural tools.


For the child who is blind, or has difficulty with balance, hand rails may make it easier to get from the house to the garden, the latrine, and the well or water hole.

Woman uses wooden banister around field to help her walk.

Alternatives to farm work

Many disabled villagers will need to learn skills other than farm work. If unemployment is high it may not be wise to train disabled persons for jobs where there is a lot of competition. In fact, any sort of paid job may be hard to get. Therefore, it often makes more sense to teach young disabled persons skills so that they can become self-employed. Or perhaps several disabled and non-disabled persons can become partners in a small ‘home industry’.

A village-based rehabilitation center with a shop can teach young disabled persons different manual skills such as leatherwork, clothes making, woodworking or welding. While they are with the program, they can use these skills to make a wide range of rehabilitation and orthopedic equipment. They can also make toys, chairs, leather goods, clothes, and other objects for sale. The income from the sale of these things can help cover some of the costs of the rehabilitation program and training. When the learners have gained enough skills, perhaps the community program can help them set up their own small ‘shop’ in their home, village, or neighborhood.

In several countries, organizations for the disabled have started revolving loan plans that provide the disabled craftsperson with the basic equipment to start his or her own small business. The loans are paid back little by little over a reasonable time, so that the same money can be used to help another disabled person get started.

Boy in wheelchair picks up discarded paper.
Trash collection—a job nobody likes but everyone must help do. (PROJIMO)

In the West Indies, the Caribbean Council for the Blind provides a guarantee to local banks which give ‘start-up’ loans to disabled persons. So far, 97 percent of the disabled persons who have received loans have met their payments on time. This record is better than that of able-bodied persons. It helps convince bankers not only that disabled persons can run their own small businesses responsibly, but that they are a good investment. By involving local banks in the loan program, the public is being educated toward a new respect and appreciation for disabled persons.

Disabled villagers can become skilled in a wide variety of manual skills. Here we list some skills that are taught in different rehabilitation programs, training programs, and special workshops.

* skills marked with a star are sometimes taught to blind persons
⎕ skills marked with a box are sometimes taught to mentally slow persons

  • leatherwork ⎕
  • sandal and shoe making and repair
  • metal work of a wide variety
  • welding
  • radio and television repair
  • electrical and mechanical repairs
  • weaving of cloth, blankets, etc.*
  • sewing and clothes making ⎕
  • toymaking *
  • basketweaving * ⎕
  • dollmaking ⎕
  • carpentry * ⎕
  • cabinet and furniture making *
  • hospital equipment making
  • making rehabilitation equipment and aids
  • wheelchair making
  • prosthetic limb making
  • drawing, painting, sculpture and design, wood or ivory carving
  • production of simple marketplace gadgets, cages, utensils and knicknacks
  • designing and making greeting cards
  • printing and silk-screening
  • pottery making *
  • broom making * ⎕
  • chalk making * ⎕
  • candle making *
  • artificial flower making ⎕
  • typing and secretarial skills
  • bookkeeping, accounting
  • bee keeping
  • knife, scissor, and saw sharpening ⎕
  • gardening and vegetable raising * ⎕
  • animal raising (chickens, ducks, goats,
  • rabbits, pigs, fish) * ⎕
  • managing a small store or street shop *
  • cooking and restaurant management
  • health work
  • jewelry making
  • rope and string making * ⎕
  • landscaping, grounds maintenance ⎕
  • janitorial service (cleaning and maintenance) ⎕
  • fish net making and repair *
  • teaching *
  • playing music *
  • laundry work, pressing
  • hair cutting, dressing
  • dental work
Blind boy working in a garden.

A blind boy in the Philippines plants a vegetable garden. (Photo by Robert Jaekle lor Helen Keller International)
Child behind counter with many jars of things.

This young villager in Sri Lanka became quadriplegic at age 14. The Sarvodaya CBR program helped him set up this small store in front of his home.

The above list includes only a few of the activities that disabled persons have learned in order to run their own small business or set up shop in their home. As much as is possible, let the disabled person decide what skill or skills she wants to learn. Choices that are possible will depend on the person’s combination of disability, abilities, and interest as well as on the local situation, resources, market, training opportunities, and other local factors.

Making craft goods out of old junk—an experiment in Pakistan

Leaders in the Community Rehabilitation Development Project in Peshawar, Pakistan realize that in their country it is very difficult for disabled persons to ‘earn a living’. Most either live by begging, are cared for by their families, or die of neglect. Since chances of employment are so limited, it is more realistic to help disabled persons learn simple craft skills for self-employment at home (if they have a home) or in the marketplace. They can make small things at low cost and sell them in the marketplace. If their small business helps the family a little or covers part of their daily expenses, something has been gained.

In the marketplace of Pakistan there is a variety of clever, simply made cages, tools, utensils, toys and other objects, mostly made out of very low-cost or waste materials. The Project has hired a self-taught craftsperson to collect, study, and make design plans for some of these marketplace things, so that disabled persons can learn to make and sell them. To follow are a few examples. For more complete instructions, write to Mental Health Centre, Mission Hospital, Peshawar, N.W.F.P., Pakistan.

Marketplace crafts for self-employed production by disabled persons

These examples and the examples on the next page are from FAMN/UNICEF Community Rehabilitation Development Project, Peshawar, Pakistan.


Materials to make a small, round cage, crossed metal strips, wire forming a cone, round wire base, two bars connected with perpendicular shorter bars and two round containers attached by a bar.
thin metal strips (from old tins)
metal strips
thick wire
thin wire (from a broken motor or whatever)
food and water containers from old jar caps


Spoon and spoons drawn on sheet.
Draw spoons on tin sheet.
Cut out the spoons with strong scissors, and hammer them to shape over a piece of iron with a hole in it.


Serving spoon with holes.
stick tacked and glued to shell
piece of coconut shell with small holes drilled to drain water
Cup that says BEER XXX.
used beer or soda tin
Rectangle formed into cup handle.
piece of beer or coke tin
Solder handle to tin.


Hay formed into a broom.
broom straw or raffia from palm leaves


Rectangle of paper, glue, paper bag.
paper (old newsprint or whatever you have)
Bend it down and stick it to the lower flap.


Rectangle, can, cylinder with line in the middle and small bar on top, cylinder shaped candle.
finished candle
round piece of cardboard pasted to tube
piece of paper inside to prevent leaking
string or thick, strong thread


Twisted wire and rectangle with holes, twisted wire and folded rectangle put together to make a fly swatter.
piece of flexible plastic
This page was updated:19 Jan 2018