Disability: cursed or ignored?by Marufa Haque
‘I do not want the peace that passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace.’
MANY international days are celebrated across the world; one of them is International Day of People with Disability. In 1976, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 1981 as the International Year of Disabled Persons. The day is celebrated on December 3 every year. It calls for a plan of action at the national, regional and international levels, with an emphasis on equalisation of opportunities, rehabilitation and prevention of disabilities. The observance of the day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for their dignity, rights and well-being. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life when abilities beyond the ordinary are recognised and celebrated. Beside such conditions, there are various ambitions of those, who, in spite of their physical difficulties, believe they can shine and attain the highest position in fields like sports, cultural activities, handicrafts, art and painting and especially in education.
Since the liberation of the country in 1971, a large number of people have become disabled and vulnerable, due to the lack of proper health care, traffic rules and social security. These people are frequently neglected and do not have the opportunity to live with prestige and honour. These people are also unable to obtain legal protection and opportunities in the field of education, employment, rehabilitation and other spheres of life.
Individuals with disabilities are those who have physical disabilities either congenitally, as a result of disease or accident or have become physically handicapped or mentally imbalanced due to maltreatment or any other reasons and have become incapacitated or are unable to lead a normal life, either partially or fully as a result of such disabilities or mental impairment (Bangladesh Persons with Disability Welfare Act 2001).
Disabilities have traditionally been perceived negatively. It is widely believed by many that people with disabilities are cursed. Women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable. Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated countries with 150 million people, 49 per cent of whom live below the national poverty line. People with disabilities are often among the poorest of the poor; they experience poverty more intensely and have fewer opportunities compared to non-disabled people to escape poverty. In Bangladesh, most people with disabilities live in rural areas. They are sometimes and also their families are often excluded both from their communities and development initiatives. Disabled people are largely invisible, ignored and excluded from mainstream development.
Disability is not mentioned in any of the eight Millennium Development Goals, the 18 targets set out to achieve these goals or the 48 indicators for monitoring their progress. However, the former president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, pointed out: ‘Unless disabled people are brought into the development mainstream, it will be impossible to cut poverty in half by 2015 or to give every girl and boy the chance to achieve a primary education by the same date — goals agreed to by more than 180 world leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000.’
Superstitions are abounding regarding congenital disability, which has the most prominent impact on women, especially in Asia. Many people still believe that women give birth to children with disability when they ignore restrictions on some actions during lunar eclipse. For example, it is believed, if the pregnant woman sleeps with her legs bent during lunar eclipse, her child will have deformed legs,
In recent years, different initiatives have been undertaken for promotion of the rights of people with disability, one of them being the cooperation between non-governmental organisations and the government. The cooperation has been expanded in the field of disability through the formation of a National Coordination Committee on disability in 1993. The hard work and positive attitude of many physically challenged people have been rewarded through such cooperation.
For instance, Hafiz is a bright student with a very impressive academic profile but his speech is challenged due to stammering. He completed Mastersof Science with three 1st divisions from Rajshahi Board. He faced about 30 written examinations for teaching positions at primary School, high school, government bank, cooperative division of Rajshahi etc. He passed every written exam but failed in viva. Then he consulted a doctor in Rajshahi District Hospital. From there, he came to know that there are various organisations that support people with special needs. This is how he came across a shiree partnering international NGO and proved himself as a successful capacity builder. With this confidence and experience, he got involved in working as a physics teacher for Government High School in Chapai Nababganj and eventually got married also. As the American Journalist Max Lerner has said, can we hear the voice of every disabled person like Hafiz, who is repeating “I am neither an optimist nor pessimist, but a possibilist”.
We have government, coordination committee, NGOs, policy makers, think tanks but we have a very nominal percentage of national total budget allocated where the number of disabled people is about 10% (2010) of total population. Moreover, Bangladesh does not have any quota or law to employ disabled people. Rather in general, the attitude towards accepting disabled people is not very positive. We have to take the initiative to provide Tax incentives for employing disabled people and making workplaces disabled friendly. These special needs people also need to be provided with training. We could make appeal for increasing the budget for the disabled people. We may seek cooperation from private sector under the guidance of government. The government has made public education and person with disabilities integration its primary goals but no clear social rehabilitation policies have been established. First and foremost, policymakers must increase their own awareness and make provisions for persons with disabilities to actively participate in policy making.
Marufa Haque is working as human resources and accounts manager at shiree/Economic Empowerment of the Poorest. Marufa@shiree.org.
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MANY international days are celebrated across the world; one of them is International Day of People with Disability. In 1976, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 1981 as the International Year of Disabled Persons. Full story
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