Building rights-based inclusive society
People with Disabilities (PWDs) are living a life of poverty in our country. They are entitled to government support, but programmes have been limited in scope and restricted to urban areas. And the question of disability has not been integrated into general development programmes. Perceptions of disability among most of our people remain largely negative, though the PWDs can prove their worth and can also contribute to the country's development if they get necessary supports. They are victims of discrimination and negligence due to misconception about them.
At the moment due to COVID-19, PWDs remain more neglected and uncared for. Though relief items have been distributed among distressed population by government and private initiatives in the country, but those support have not properly reached the PWDs. They are deprived of such support as visually impaired person and physically impaired person. PWDs have poor or little access to jobs, different government services, training and above all social justice.
According to a survey of World Health Organization (WHO), about 8%-10% people of our country have impairment. According to that tally, there are roughly 17 million PWDs in our country. Most of them are leading a life of abject poverty with sub-human condition. Their opinions are not generally heard for and their rights are often violated resulting in their marginalization and exclusion.
Formation of a separate ministry titled 'Disability Ministry' is essential for development of PWDs in respect of job, education, skill development training, ensuring social justice, assistance in natural calamities, ensuring social security and ending harassments to PWDs. It would be helpful if a separate ministry is in place. This ministry would be helpful in increasing social status of the PWDs.
There is a link between national development and development of PWDs. If the condition of PWDs is improved with access to necessary support, they can contribute to the national development.
In a bid to improve the condition of PWDs--especially the visually impaired people--Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organization (BERDO), a rights-based organization, was established. Since its inception on July 17, 1991, BERDO has been working to provide education, employment, training and medical services for the PWDs. In addition, BERDO is implementing social rehabilitation activities along with socio-economic development through income generation activities. BERDO has a plan to install a modern world class Braille Press, an eye medical service centre, and a residential school for visually impaired girls.
It is hoped that more such rights-based organization would be established in the country and other organizations currently working at development sector should take up steps for ensuring the rights of PWDs. Initiatives have been undertaken at national as well as international level to protect the rights of all the people.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) was agreed on December 13, 2006 by UN General Assembly and 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 had ratified it on November 30, 2007.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Through the pledge to 'Leave No One Behind', the countries have committed to fast-track progress for those furthest behind first. In our country, there are two laws 'Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act 2013' and 'Neuro Developmental Disabilities Act 2013', which need to be implemented properly.
PWDs are not being included in different development committees due to lack of full implementation of the laws. Rights of the PWDs have been clearly identified and defined in clause No-16 of that law. It is necessary to ensure full and active participation of PWDs in social, economic and state activities according to nature of disabilities; protection from oppressions, and safe and healthy environment; accepting sign language as main language by person with hearing and speech impairments; formation of self-help groups and welfare organizations, and operation of those 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 the PWDs in the interest of our national development. But how? The following measures can be helpful in this regard.
It is needed to create awareness, share information, and increase greater coordination among Disabled People's Organizations (DPOs); define strategies and involve PWDs from the very beginning of planning; work closely with local, regional and national level agencies/departments to implement "Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act 2013" by DPOs to achieve the SDGs goals; build good rapport and keep constant touch, liaison and communication with different ministries, departments and institutions.
The steps also include involving Civil Society into PWDs rights movement; make correlation between UNCRPD and SDG strategies of GoB; ensure participation of PWDs in different platforms, committees and forums to monitor SDG implementation. All concerned should play their due role for formation of a rights-based inclusive society where all the people will enjoy their rights without any discrimination.
Article 19 of Bangladesh Constitution called for ensuring 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) called for making special provision for the advancement of any backward section of citizens.
It is hoped that the PWDs would be involved into the mainstream of society and the rights of all will be ensured for building a country free from discrimination in the light of those rules and regulations.
The author is General Secretary, Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organization (BERDO)