INTERNATIONAL Day of Persons with Disabilities, observed today, promotes the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities and action for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development.
The theme of the day this year is ‘Building Back Better: Toward a Disability-Inclusive, Accessible and Sustainable Post-COVID-19 World.’ Each year, the United Nations announces a theme for the day, with an overarching focus on how society can strive for inclusivity through the removal of physical, technological and attitudinal barriers for people with disability. This has been happening since 1992 when the UN General Assembly announced that International Day of Persons with Disabilities would be observed every December 3.
In Bangladesh, people with disabilities face many barriers to inclusion in many key spheres of society. As a result, they do not enjoy access to society on an equal basis with others in areas of transport, employment and education as well as social and political participation.
When people are empowered, they are better prepared to take advantage of opportunities, become agents of change and can more readily embrace their civic responsibilities.
People with disabilities are mainly living a life of poverty in Bangladesh. They are entitled to government supports, but programmes have been limited in scope and restricted to urban areas and the issue of disability has not been integrated into general development programmes.
Perceptions of disability among most of the people remain largely negative although people with disabilities can prove their worth and can contribute to development if they get supports. They are victims of discrimination and neglect because of misconception about them.
Now because of the impact of COVID-19, people with disabilities are more neglected and uncared for. Although relief supplies have been distributed to the distressed by the government and at private initiatives, the supports have not properly reached people with disabilities.
They are deprived of such support as a visually impaired person is unable to see and similarly a physically impaired person cannot move. People with disabilities have poor or little access to job, government services, training and above all social justice.
According to a survey of the World Health Organisation, about 8–10 per cent of the population has have impairment in one way or another. According to that estimate, there are roughly 17 million people with disabilities in Bangladesh.
Most of them lead a life in abject poverty. Their opinions are not generally heard and their rights are often violated, resulting in their marginalisation and exclusion.
A separate ministry for people with disabilities is essential for their development in respect of job, education, skills training, ensuring social justice, assistance in natural calamities and social security. This ministry could help in increasing the social status of people with disabilities.
There is a link between national development and the development of people with disabilities. If the condition of people with disabilities is improved with access to necessary support, they can contribute to the national development.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was agreed on December 13, 2006 by UN General Assembly and the convention came into force on May 3, 2008 to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. Bangladesh government ratified it on November 30, 2007.
The Sustainable Development Goals was adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015 as a universal call for action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Wit the pledge to ‘Leave No One Behind’, the countries have committed to fast-track progress for those furthest behind first.
In Bangladesh, there are two laws — the Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act 2013 and the Neuro Developmental Disabilities Act 2013 — which need to be implemented properly.
People with disabilities are not being included in development committees because of the lack of full implementation of the laws. Rights of the people with disabilities have been clearly identified and defined in the law; they are accessibility, full and active participation of people with disabilities in social, economic and state activities according to nature of disabilities; protection from oppression; safe and healthy environment; accepting sign language as main language by people with hearing and speech impairment; self-help groups and welfare organisations and the operation of the groups.
A country cannot go ahead if a large number of its people remain excluded. Hence, it is needed to build an inclusive society. It is essential to mainstream people with disabilities in national interests.
It is needed to create awareness, share information and increase greater coordination among disabled people’s organisations, define strategies and involve people with disabilities from the very beginning of planning, work closely with local, regional and national level agencies/departments to implement the Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act 2013 by the organisations to achieve the SDG goals, build a good rapport and keep constant touch, liaison and communication with ministries, departments and institutions.
The steps also include the involvement of a large number member of civil society actors into rights movement for people with disabilities, make correlation between UNCRPD and SDG strategies of the government, ensure the participation of people with disabilities on different platforms, committees and forums to monitor SDG implementation.
All concerned should play their due role for the formation of a rights-based inclusive society where all people will enjoy their rights without any discrimination.
Article 19 of Bangladesh constitution calls for ensuring the equality of opportunity to all the citizens. Article 28 (1) says that the state shall not discriminate against any citizens on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Article 28 (4) calls for making special provision for the advancement of any backward section of citizens.
It is hoped that people with disabilities would be involved into the mainstream of society and the rights of all to be ensured for building a country free from discrimination in the light of those rules and regulations.
Md Saidul Huq is general secretary of Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organisation.
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