At just the age of 20, Labib Tazwar Rahman has already been breaking barriers between young students with and without disabilities. He founded an organisation called InclusionX that aims to integrate people with learning disabilities into our society through uniquely designed programs in Arts and Computer Studies. After finishing grade 10, Labib founded InclusionX to create an inclusive society by the integration of students with intellectual disabilities in programs organized by regular schools. His organisation is also a pioneer in giving computer training to people with Down Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Labib has brought together a community of high school and university students to give his students with disabilities a childhood they never thought they could have.
How did you initiate InclusionX?
InclusionX took off in July 2015 with the overarching aim of shattering the barrier that separated people with disabilities from those without. We rose from humble beginnings. I thought the reason why people with disabilities were not part of the mainstream was that they were unfamiliar to us. Because of an inherent lack of exposure, we could not really grasp the idea that they are no different from us. I organized a small event with high school and college students where they could sign up online to spend a day with students who had autism and Down syndrome at a special school. I later went on to organize painting exhibitions and a symposium on disability etiquette at Daffodil University with experts in the field. This created a lot of traction on mainstream and social media. This ripple gave us about 250 people who partook in different activities in two special schools - SWID and AWF. Despite the amazing response, I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to do more. I wanted to teach them computing. It seemed like an overambitious endeavour and I knew there won’t be many who believe in me. But fortunately, one man named Shovon Ahmed did. I shared about my project with him and he invited me to his office. It turned out that he was a coordinator of a computer lab and he allowed me to use his space for 2 hours twice every week. From there we started off with 5 students and never looked back.
There is, unfortunately, an inherent stigma surrounding people with disabilities. In what ways do you hope to minimize that?
I want to go for a holistic approach, with the involvement of people from all quarters. I realized we could make maximum impact by working with the youth. So we decided to train children with children. We trained high school and university students to teach our students context-specific computer science modules. We thought this approach not only allowed our students to learn things that allowed them to rediscover themselves but also empowered the teachers and gave them a sense of purpose. All our trainers and core executive body members have been work voluntarily for 2 years now. In my opinion, the most rewarding aspect of our work is witnessing the overwhelming end of Each two-month computer session. Even after the end of the program, the students keep in touch with their trainers. Our programs have created an unexpected avenue for intimate bonds to blossom.
Please share some of the main activities of InclusionX and the kind of events you hold. We have 3 major events. “InclusionX Connecting Circles” is a fortnightly special school visiting program for high-school and university students; "InclusionX Joy of Computing" is a series of 2-month long courses where we teach special students basic computing practices such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, e-mail and web-surfing; “InclusionX Outreach” is a program that creates liaison between typical schools and institutions for organizing “inclusive events”. We also had a discussion with children’s rights activist and 2014 Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi about our plans during his Dhaka visit.
Why do you think it is important to build a platform that bridges the gap between abled and disabled people?
I think the main reason why this gap exists is that people from both sides of the spectrum have not had the opportunity to have meaningful interaction with each other that can make way for them to understand each other.
We wanted to reduce the inherent disparity between people with and without disabilities. The mass people of Bangladesh are still unfamiliar to the prospect of a person with disabilities being their classmate, teammate, opponent, or just friend. This notion that these people are not one of us had been ingrained into us from childhood by segregation in schools and playgrounds and is worsened by social norms and misconceptions that separate these two socially-constructed classes.
Another issue we wanted to address was the lack of opportunities and resources for people of disabilities to pursue. People with disabilities have limited provision for skill development, leading to a lack of employment and evidently an insecure future. What deepened this issue is the employers' wrongful perception of people with disabilities as less capable workers because of their condition.
We wanted to address these issues and bridge the inherent gap, and make the people with disabilities as well the common mass realize that these people are as much a part of society as anyone else.
What constructive and specific advice do you have to give to a global audience of young people interested in starting a similar project or address the same issue?
I think one of the most parts of initiating any project is choosing a dependable team who you can always count on. But I cannot stress enough how important it is to first educate and prepare yourself on the cause you are supporting. You must actively push yourself to unlearn hurtful narratives and to learn the nuances of the issue from a scholarly angle. Assess the rationale and the implication of each step from different ethical, social, cultural, and educational perspectives. Learn from examples of projects addressing similar issues, always keeping in mind that your context is different and may require adjustments. Share your ideas with everyone you know. You’ll be surprised what you can create with collective wisdom. Ask yourself questions and try to convince yourself first: Why I am doing this? Why would anyone want to do this? What are the actionable steps? Who do I want to partner up with? What is a reasonable timeline of actionable steps and is each of the step important? Whatever you are working on, always collaborate early on: it will make things logistically simple. Furthermore, you can learn from your partners as well as build credibility for your organization. Try to utilize your networks wisely. Think critically, but don’t overthink: you won’t always know what challenges the sea holds until you dive right into it
Please share a message of encouragement for young people starting their own social startups.
There are very few things that are as fulfilling as coming together as an organization to touch the lives of even one person. The path may not be glamorous, but trust me, it will be rich in things that matter more.