Facilitating SHGs and Federation of PWDs

It is rare in life for a person with a disability to be asked to think for themselves.The idea of Self Help Groups is not to extend charity needlessly, but to foster independence and an enabling network of peers.Awareness of, and the ability to mobilise, ones’ rights are the aims of federating PWDs.

Facilitation of SHGs was an extension of the work that RDT had been doing with an NGO – ADD (Action on Disability and Development) India in 1987. An ADD India member, Mr. Venkatesh was the prime-mover behind the early federation of PWDs.

He came up with the idea of mobilising collectives of PWDs at the Taluk level (average population of 2,00,000 persons per Taluk). Meeting at the Taluk level was difficult for them due to poor access to means of transport (helping them acquire bus passes was among the initiatives of the project). Inspired by RDTs already active Sanghams in other sectors, Venkatesh thought to replicate the experience for PWDs as well. So instead smaller Sanghams were formed at village levels. These were gender-mixed groups of varying ages and disabilities. They needed at least 5 members, who met to socialise and share their experiences as a first step because up to that point, most PWDs were isolated from society and from each other.

Understanding each other’s experiences gave them a sense of solidarity to tackle their issues with daily life, and work on sensitising their abled peers.

“We cannot knock on every door and know the conditions of the PWDs living in them. RDT's field staff membersalertus about the cases needingurgent help.”
P. Venkatachalam

The Sanghams focused on creating awareness of their legal rights and mobilising and facilitating those services which could be availed by them such as medical certificates, income certificates and bus/train passes, among others.

Eventually, in 1989, RDT decided to continue this as an independent sector for PWDs. The SHG and federation programme that started with just 20 villages had grown to 70 by 1991. Today, RDT works in over 2570 villages in Ananthapuram and parts of Kurnool district and each PWD Sangham has at least 10 members who meet monthly to discuss social and economic matters.

The rights of PWDs are now enshrined by the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, and RDT carries out its activities as per its definitions. The main ways in which PWDs’ lives have improved after federation into Sanghams have been:

Mini-bank savings

As most PWDs had little access to any money, mini-banks were conceptualised as an early measure for mobilising savings. These were small savings accounts operated by each Sangham, membership was voluntary and at first each person could only contribute a rupee or two each month at best in the early 90s. This amount has slowly grown to Rs. 25-50 today per member, and enrolment in savings by all member PWDs is now 100%, as their prospects have improved. As savings have grown, mini-banks evolved to giving out small loans and creating a revolving-credit system.


It was not uncommon for PWDs to be living under unpleasant circumstances, and with their diminished social status and entitlements, owning a house was an impossible dream. Most of them just had barely enough money for their most basic needs, let alone dedicated housing. PWD Act provisions state, that 3% of all government schemes should benefit PWDs.

Sangham discussions led to PWDs being allotted land plots that were due to them, to be used as house sites, but most of them had no means by which to construct one. The PWD Sanghams made recommendations on behalf of such members, and after due diligence, constructed a house unit with attached bathroom and toilet. The candidates thereby realised a huge uplift in their social status and solvency- a dream come true.

Income-Generating Programme (IGP)

With all the steps realised, most PWDs were still not financially confident to avail loans even as small as Rs. 2000 from their own savings. The pressure of repayment and the risk of losing their savings loomed large over them. This is not the case today with loans as large as Rs. 10000 being availed through mini-banks.  Besides individual loans, PWD Sanghams also take larger loans either from the government, The DDF is a fund constituted by RDT and runs for about 10-15 villages banks or Disability Development Fund (DDF).

 from which Sanghams avail large loans ranging between 10 lakh to 30 lakh depending on the size and performance track of the borrower. For seriously compromised PWDs, their caretakers could take the loan from the DDF, but only on the premise that the benefits of the activity taken up would reach the concerned person. In this way, PWDs’ financial confidence has grown from mobilising savings of a few rupees to availing large loans for business activities.

Sanghams have also worked tirelessly with RDT’s support for mobilising legal rights, government documentation, rights to ancestral property, census recognition, voting rights/cards, access to government pension, scholarships, and employment cards under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), among other initiatives. Today PWDs are equally confident and entitled members of society as abled persons.


With the setting up of SHGs, there has been a drastic improvement in the social conditions of Persons with Disabilities. They are slowly gaining recognition and there is a far bigger acceptance for their social inclusion with their families and communities as a whole being more receptive to them. Financial independence through mini-banks has set an unprecedented confidence in them; their perception has changed and they feel more in control of their lives.

Mr.Ranga Reddy
Training Resource Person, CBR Sector


I contracted Polio at a very young age. Through years of struggle and practice, I was finally able to walk without a stick when I was 7 years old. However, due to my disability, I was often mocked at school. After the sudden demise of my father in 2001, I dropped out of school and started working at a welding shop for a meagre salary of Rs. 2000 per month.

In 2002, I joined the Vikalangula Sangham in my village where the members gave me a lot of confidence and even suggested that I get married. After much difficulty, a family allowed me to wed their daughter in 2004 – but again I was faced with the issue of financially securing my new family.

RDT helped me in setting up my own welding shop. They provided me with Rs. 25,000 as capital, and helped in securing Rs. 20,000 from a bank and Rs. 50,000 from other sources – a total of Rs. 95,000. Thus, I was able to purchase modern machinery and establish my own shop. Today, I earn Rs. 15,000 every month and have repaid my loans and bills. I have 2 sons who are receiving good education in a private school and I am able to meet the financial needs of my family. I have even hired 2 workers for my welding shop and pay them Rs. 3000 every month. People in my village recognise me and respect my family.

Zilan Basha, Kudair Village, Ananthapuram District

“I now guide other Persons with Disabilities and tell them my own story of struggles and success through RDT”


Greater financial independence and security has led to a better status in society for the PWDs. Once considered unmarriageable, their prospects of receiving good wedding proposals from respectable families have significantly improved in the recent years.