In approaching this assessment of Peace Corps' efforts addressing the needs of disabled persons, the authors had the dubious advantage of knowing that the task would be formidable. We suspected that the sheer quantity of projects dealing with disability would be quite high, but that detailed information about those projects would be scattered. We were right.
A second problem was that projects concerning disability spill over into several major sectors of Peace Corps programming (i.e. Health, Education, Vocational Development, and Community Development). Consequently, there were many different sources of information to research.
Deciding how to gather information on a wide range of issues and subjects was a critical early decision in this assessment. Three basic methods were used:
1. Document collection and review;
Document Collection and Review
Peace Corps has a large quantity of "fugitive literature" relating to all its work and we certainly found this to be true in special education and rehabilitation projects. Past country management plans, Trainee Assignment Criteria (TAC) sheets, volunteer and consultant reports, and a variety of internal staff documents offer a wealth of information about Peace Corps activity concerning disability. Numerous former volunteers sent us reports and articles that were never known to exist by more than a few people. This situation is not a criticism of Peace Corps. If every activity of thousands of volunteers were thoroughly reported in print, the mountain of paper would bury Washington and its suburbs.
The most systematic method of data gathering for this assessment involved two survey instruments which form the objective base for this report. One survey was sent to all Peace Corps Country Directors to give us a recent overview of all projects concerning disabled persons. The second survey was sent to a sample of former volunteers who worked in special education or rehabilitation projects. These provided us with more indepth information on common special education and rehabilitation issues. Had time permitted, we would have preferred to develop a third survey to send to host country supervisors of volunteers. There can be a number of undesirable side effects of such a written survey on future programming, as well as potential for confusion as to who speaks for the Peace Corps in-country, and a decision was made not to pursue this option. We did, however, send a letter to selected host country institutions requesting evaluative information on Peace Corps' work in their setting and received several useful responses.
Several hundred personal and telephone interviews were held with current and former staff and volunteers, a variety of international experts in special education and rehabilitation, and a number of host county nationals. These interviews often provided the most thoughtful insights, the most pointed criticism, the highest praise, and the most practical recommendations for future efforts concerning disabled persons.
The Physical Quality of Life Index
Reference is made in each of the case studies to the Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI). We have chosen to include this indicator because it succinctly sums up the development processes of the countries. The PQLI is a composite indicator, developed by the Overseas Development Council, to measure the performance of the poorest countries in meeting their basic human needs as well as critical welfare issues facing the countries. Three indicators make up the composite Physical Quality of Life Index: infant mortality, life expectancy, and basic literacy.
These three indicators were selected as most accurately representing the combined effects of public health, nutrition, family and environmental processes and social situations. Indicators not chosen include: death rate (life expectancy is considered more accurate since it is corrected for age structure), birth rate, morbidity, structural indicators (i.e. agricultural vs. industrial organization), subjective indicators (e.g. "satisfaction" and "happiness" indices) and birth levels.
In an effort to provide an overview of activities addressing the needs of disabled persons, we begin by presenting a country-by-country description of the general types of special education and rehabilitation projects engaged in by volunteers over the span of the last several years. Information was limited by availability of statistical data and a necessity to rely on the memory of recent staff. Based on the general information gathered from this overview, seven countries were chosen for more indepth study. Selection criteria focused on new and special project assignments, diversity of assignments, and regional representation. It was also decided to document the work of volunteers in countries which are phasing out Peace Corps involvement. We have attempted to describe the general scope of each of the seven countries' programs and in some cases highlight a particular project. A discussion of critical factors influencing the effectiveness of special education and rehabilitation projects follows, using examples from the case studies.
In any evaluative report, the authors can achieve more credibility by confessing their biases at the outset. Regarding this report, it should be pointed out that both authors began their assessment with generally positive impressions about Peace Corps and its accomplishments in the effort to improve the quality of life of disabled people. To offset this bias, we looked carefully for flaws, mistakes, and bad practices. We found some and have described them throughout the report without hesitation.
Both authors have first hand experience with disability at the professional level and within our respective immediate families. Our appreciation for the extraordinary and pioneering international efforts of the Peace Corps concerning disabled persons will be evident.
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