Handicap International wraps up 15 years in Tibet

Handicap International began working in the Tibet Autonomous Region in 2000, with a goal for its projects to promote the social inclusion of people with disabilities. In mid-2015, the organization withdrew from the region, entrusting the projects to its former local partner, the Tibet Disabled Persons' Federation.


The Tibet Autonomous Region counts approximately 210,000 people with disabilities, or around 7% of the population[1]. Most of these individuals live in rural areas, where it can be difficult to access health, education and rehabilitation services. They are also often victims of discrimination. From 2000 to 2015, Handicap International worked in Tibet to provide them with support, and to enhance their inclusion in society.

Rehabilitation and support to disabled people’s organizations

Handicap International set up four rehabilitation centers in the area around Lhasa, Chamdo, Shigatse and Loka, ran physical therapy sessions, and supplied orthopedic devices and mobility aids such as walking frames, wheelchairs and crutches.

“We made changes in China and Tibet to the rehabilitation approach—almost exclusively medical—and gave it a more social dimension,” says Didier Demey, who managed Handicap International’s actions in Tibet for several years. “Our goal was to improve the living conditions of people with disabilities in Tibet. It is essential that they take part in the life of their community, earn a livelihood, and are recognized and accepted.”  

The organization provided support to the Tibet Deaf Association, Associations of Persons with Physical Disabilities, Tibet Blind Association. Staff trained members of communities and families to case-manage and care for people with disabilities, using community based rehabilitation, and raised awareness to promote their inclusion.

Sign language

Handicap International also helped develop a single Tibetan sign language that everyone can understand, and which is now in widespread use by the Deaf community.

Teams also enhanced the inclusion of children with disabilities in 14 nursery, primary and special education schools, promoted inclusive employment, improved mother and child health[2] and advanced the rights of people with disabilities.

Passing the torch

For 15 years, staff provided constructive support to disabled people’s organizations and the Tibet Disabled Persons’ Federation, while improving the rehabilitation approach in the region. Handicap International withdrew from the region in May 2015. Its rehabilitation and community-based rehabilitation projects, and its actions in aid of disabled people’s and inclusive employment  organizations have been transferred to the Tibet Disabled Persons’ Federation, whose capacity and autonomy Handicap International helped to build, and with whom our teams collaborated on project implementation in the different thematic areas.

[1] Estimate of 7% based on the “Persons with disabilities in the Tibetan Autonomous Region TAR (2006)” survey and adapted to the number of inhabitants in 2015.

[2] Including by preventing malformations in newborns and young children, and the early detection of disability.