Rolling together

On Wednesday we started the stakeholder meeting – also part of WHO’s Wheelchair Services Training Package (WSTP).  We had expected 50 people but some 35 showed up. We had vendors (wheelchairs are not manufactured locally but imported and assembled here), academics, organizations of people with disabilities and practitioners in the room. We did not have anyone from the central or state governments, nor from the disability rights commission, unfortunately. This is, according to our participants, a symptom. For me it was a missed opportunity. But then again, I remember Harrison Owen Open Space principle: who ever are there are the right people.

We brought the abstract notion of a shared vision to life using a type of airy modeling dough and letting people dream about a barrier free Malaysia.  The modeling dough was sent all the way from China to the US and then carried in checked luggage back to the Chinese neighborhood.  We told people to use all the resources in the room, and they did: the modeling dough, paper, glasses, water bottles and markers. The creations were great.

The visions depicted wheelchair access in 2025 in Malaysia, ranging from  high touch to high tech and everything in between. They then worked backwards and acted out scenarios (in song and mime) that got us from 2016 to 2025. The themes that we identified had to do with standards and guidelines (there are none now), training (there are just a handful of trained wheelchair providers in the country now), teams responsible for strategy development in the hospitals (there are no such teams nor services now), public awareness (there is little of this), stakeholder collaboration (all silo-ed now) and resource development (there has not been much of collective effort to increase funding). The last step in the process brought stakeholders together around areas of common interest, influence, roles and/or expertise. Usually at this point the interest and energy wanes – partially because people are tired but more importantly because I insist that each activity proposed has to have the name of a person willing to take responsibility and lead the effort. But with this group there was none of this. Later, when we reflected on the two days and I asked them where they had felt ‘in the flow’ they mentioned both the dreaming and the activity planning; a first in my experience.

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