Tibet: Overcoming Prejudice and Empowering Youth with Disabilities

Twenty-year-old Tibetan Drolma Lazom was born with Kashin Beck Disease, a chronic, disabling bone disease common in Tibet Autonomous Region and other parts of southwestern China. In the blog below, Lazom describes the struggles of growing up with a disability in Tibet, and how, after joining a support group sponsored by Handicap international, she overcame her low self-esteem to become an advocate for the disabled. Handicap international, which has been working in China for 12 years, supports, among others, community-based rehabilitation in Tibet Region as well as disabled people’s organizations. 

In Tibet, people believe that disability is a punishment for something that one has done in former life. As a result, people with disabilities are viewed as useless or stupid. Growing up, other children made fun of me and called me “walks like a duck.” Regular elementary schools refused to admit me even though there was nothing wrong with my brain.

I had low self-esteem. I never wanted to look in to the mirror and I didn’t want to see myself in photographs as I felt that I was ugly and short.  However, I am also grateful for my disability, because it forced me to think creatively and work hard to make a better life for myself. 

Three years ago, I joined a self-help group for disabled teenagers supported by Handicap International. We met twice a month to share our problems and discuss possible solutions. We also organized public awareness events to inform others about the reality of being disabled. Through this group I also learned about opportunities to study outside of Tibet.

Eventually, I gained admittance to a one-year program at the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs in India. At the beginning it was very difficult to be in a different culture and speak English, but I worked very hard and quickly improved my skills. There I learned to accept myself. I understand now that I am different, but being different isn’t a negative thing—it all depends on how you think and react to the world around you. During my program I also learned about how to develop projects to help empower other people with disabilities.

When I came back from India, I starting working for the Tibet Association of People with Physical Disabilities which is supported by Handicap International. Our main focus is providing services to our members like counseling, referral to relevant services, education about rights, literacy and language classes, and self-help groups.

I lead the self-help group for young people. With my positive attitude, I manage to motivate them and improve their confidence. By telling them my personal story, I hope to transform their mindsets and help them to accept themselves. I do not want them shy away from looking in mirrors or being photographed as I did when I was their age.

Our organization also advocates for the rights of people with disabilities. The media has a big influence on public opinion so we encourage journalists to do more positive reporting on disability. We also lobby decision makers to ensure that the voices of people with disabilities are taken into account and that laws regarding disability are fully implemented.

We want society to give us the opportunity to show that we are not burdens but people capable of being independent and successful. We do not want to live in isolation and we want to have an equal right to have jobs that are in line with our education, skills, and interests so that we can have families of our own. At the same time, we, the people with disabilities, have to accept who we are and work together to achieve these goals.