RENOWNED physicist Stephen Hawking writes, ‘We have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities.’ People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to unemployment and poverty. The issue is particularly important in the height of COVID-19 pandemic. Although access to employment is recognised in Bangladesh as a fundamental right, less than 20 per cent of the people with disabilities are currently in work. Inclusive employment refers to all activities which enable an individual to gain access to decent remunerated work. People with disabilities who are in work have dissatisfactions; they are often poorly paid having no or little legal or social safeguards. Bangladesh as a signatory to the United Nation’s Convention requires to promote, protect, and ensure human rights of persons with disabilities and to ensure that they enjoy equality under the law.
According to the World Report of Disability, about 15 per cent of the world population have some forms of disabilities and this number is much higher in low-, and middle-income countries such as Bangladesh. Till date, Bangladesh has no acceptable primary data on disability prevalence. Different estimates on the prevalence of disability put the figure of persons with disabilities between1.41 per cent and 9.01 per cent. That means Bangladesh has 17–25 million individuals with disabilities. Among the four major components of disability impacts, the lack of access to employment is on the top.
Disability is a vital issue with respect to human rights and cannot be sidelined while considering national development activities of a country. Persons with disabilities can have positive contribution to the national economy if they are well nurtured and given adequate opportunities.
According to the International Labour Organisation, each member state shall, in accordance with national conditions, practices and possibilities, formulate, implement and periodically review a national policy on vocational rehabilitation and employment of disabled persons. But, there are considerable gaps in the inclusion of the persons with disabilities both in the government and private sectors.
Earlier, the government declared a compulsory 10 per cent job quota for people with disabilities and orphans, but has failed to specify a percentage for each group in particular, making it meaningless for persons with disabilities in terms of employment rights. It also declared 1 per cent quota for persons with disabilities in the Bangladesh Civil Services. Later, the system has created much confusions, debates and anarchies on these issues. Ultimately this declaration is not being implemented properly and people with disabilities in the public sector constitute less than 1 per cent, although they represent about 15 per cent of the total population. There are evidences that working environments at most workplaces are never disability-friendly.
Disability could occur at birth or during the course of life. There are 11 main types of disability described in the Bangladesh Disability Act, 2013 such as hearing disability, visual disability, physical disability, speech disability and mental disability. A person may be affected with one or multiple types of disability. Disability is mainly produced by a) trauma giving rise to spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, multiple body injuries or b) diseases such as stroke, arthritic disorders or by c) childhood conditions like autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy and other congenital diseases.
Studies have shown that persons with disabilities are at a greater disadvantage, experiencing significant difficulties in securing governmental and non-governmental jobs compared to those without disabilities. A survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, conducted in 2010, revealed that only 53.6 per cent of men with disabilities, compared to 78.8 per cent of males without disabilities, were employed. Persons with disabilities also encounter difficulties to access the 10 per cent jobs earmarked for them in the public sector (third and fourth grade jobs) and 1 per cent for the first and second grade jobs. There is no obligation or a mandate for securing guaranteed employment in the private sector for the disabled persons. This has a profound impact on the employment rates among people with disabilities, as the private sector, especially the garment sector, is the biggest employer in Bangladesh.
Establishing Inclusive Job Centre was highly appreciated from all the disability-related organisations such as the Bangladesh Disability Study Group. The objective of the centre was to facilitate skills training and to increase employment and career opportunities in the garments and leather industries for people with disabilities.
Following recommendations are made to develop a minimum level of disability inclusive employment in Bangladesh:
1. Undertaking epidemiological studies of disabilities.
2. Establishing a disability evaluation and disability certification unit at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University under physical medicine rehabilitation department.
3. Jobs like front table attendant-cum-receptionist, house caretaker, lift attendant, car park attendant etc should be reserved for people with disabilities.
4. Establishing Inclusive Job Centre in all divisions.
5. Establishing ‘Work Hardening Rehabilitation Unit’ in all tertiary referral care physical medicine rehabilitation departments in the country for rehabilitation and facilitation of skills training.
6. Enacting legislations for disability inclusive job market.
7. Developing private-public partnerships to help people with disabilities to access to jobs.
8. Government agencies and NGOs should promote access to employment for people with disabilities and should put a monitoring mechanism in place to ensure coordination and collaboration of all parties concerned.
Dr Md Taslim Uddin is chair of the physical medicine and rehabilitation department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.
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