The World Health Organisation recognises disability as a global public health issue, a human rights issue and a development priority. Disability is a global public health issue because people with disabilities throughout their lives face widespread barriers in accessing health and related services such as rehabilitation and have worse health outcomes than people without disabilities.
Disability is also a human rights issue because adults, adolescents and children with disabilities experience stigmatisation, discrimination and inequalities. They are subject to multiple violations of their rights, including their dignity, for instance, through acts of violence, abuse, prejudice and disrespect because of their disabilities and they are denied autonomy.
Finally, disability is a development priority because of its high prevalence in low-income countries and because disability and poverty reinforce and perpetuate each other. Poverty increases the likelihood of impairment through malnutrition, poor health care and dangerous living, working and travelling conditions. Disability may lead to low standards of living and poverty through lack of access to education and employment and through increased expenditure related to disabilities.
In terms of promoting and protecting the rights of people with disabilities, Bangladesh has come a long way. Bangladesh has ratified both the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Beijing Proclamation on the Full Participation and Equality with Disability in Asia and the Pacific Region. To make all relevant ministries responsible for undertaking various initiatives to include and protect people with disabilities, five-year National Disability Action Plan in 2006 was also taken.
The finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal presented Tk 5,231.9 billion national budget for the 2019-20 financial year on June 13, 2019. An increased budget allocation for people with disabilities, separate plans and budget allocation for them, tax rebate for employers/organisations of persons with disabilities and supporting for business ventures of people with disabilities in the budget are appreciable. Monthly education stipends for students with disabilities have been increased keeping to the commitment that the prime minister made at the inaugural programme of the 12th World Autism Awareness Day.
Despite all these wonderful initiatives for people with disabilities, commitments made in the 7th five-year National Action Plan (2016–2020) are yet to be met. For an example, monthly education stipend has been increased. But as mentioned in the National Action plan, basic requirements as accessibility to academic buildings, washroom facilities, special reading materials for visual and hearing impaired students and schools for mentally impaired students are still not ensured. Special budget allocation for ensuring such services along with collaboration of different ministries is required.
Strengthening early detections of symptoms of disability, appointing trained professionals to deal with disability issues and introducing support services of assistive devices still need to be addressed. Although it was mentioned in the National Action plan that the inclusion of people with disabilities will be ensured by improving their decision making power at national and community levels, they were not included in the budget allocation discussion. Additionally, accessibility of people with disabilities to public transports and public infrastructure still needs government attention. The Road Transport and Highways Division has 1.24 times more budget allocation since the past financial year, yet there is no mention of public transports friendly to people with disabilities. Similarly, the railway ministry has 1.44 times bigger budget than it had in the past financial year. Being the second largest mode of communication in Bangladesh, there has been no mention of allocation for inclusive railway services that can help people with disabilities.
While Bangladesh has committed to becoming an ICT-based digital country, there is a daunting prospect that a significant portion of the population with varying levels of disabilities and illiteracy could be left behind. The ministry of science and technology along with the information and communications technology division should work collaboratively to use the budget allocation to ensure digital accessibility for people with disabilities.
Finally, development issues of people with disabilities should not remain only under the ministry of social welfare. Other ministries are responsible too for ensuring rights of people with disabilities. The government should have decentralised allocations under different ministries. Laws, policies, announcement of budget allocation all need a proper follow-up mechanism to keep the good work going.
Moon Moon Hossain is policy analyst at BRAC.
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