Even though Bangladesh adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Optional Protocol around 14 years ago, disability stigma remains a major social and economic phenomenon in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, there is a rising perception that the greatest barrier for people with disabilities is systemic discrimination and prejudice, rather than impairment. As the International Day of Disabled Persons approaches tomorrow (Friday, December 03), it is time to contemplate the status quo and realise how far we have come in making the disabled feel welcome.
Discrimination and humiliation surrounding individuals with disabilities are so deeply embedded in our society that it is frequently used casually as slang. As people with disabilities struggle to communicate and develop abilities, they experience social isolation and guilt. Fortunately, InclusionX, a Dhaka-based NGO working on the inclusion of persons with disabilities, mental healthcare, and raising awareness about teenage reproductive healthcare, stands as a light of hope and inspiration in the fight against this gloomy scenario.
In an interview, officials of InclusionX explain the complexities of 'Disability Stigma' and how it can be overcome. Discrimination in the family, society, and employment is at the heart of most violations of the rights of disabled children in Bangladesh. Disability is viewed as a curse and a punishment at all levels of society, limiting access to sufficient care, health, nourishment, education, and participation.
According to the NGO, despite major advancements by the present government such as the 'Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act,' the increasing number of special schools and the quota system, social exclusion of people with disabilities remain prevalent. One of the greatest hurdles in tackling the challenges is a lack of resources, such as wheelchair ramps or lift facilities.
As per the status quo, children with disabilities have a lower likelihood of receiving healthcare or attending schools. They are particularly vulnerable to assault, abuse, exploitation, and neglect if they are concealed or placed in institutions. Gender is also an important aspect since girls with impairments are less likely to receive food and care than boys.
InclusionX discusses how varied family backgrounds and lack of information play a key role in creating a disability-inclusive environment in educational institutions, particularly from an early age when a child's moral framework is developing. People who do not have a disability or know anyone with a disability may be unaware of what it is like to live with a disability or the difficulties that can arise on a daily basis. This might result in a negative and apathetic attitude toward people with impairments.
Even though the CRPD requires states to promote, protect, and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by persons with disabilities, including children and adolescents, there are many areas that require improvement. Raising awareness of different types of disabilities and how they affect people's lives, for example, is vital for several reasons; disability awareness campaigns show what daily life is like for someone with a disability. This could be the difficulties people have when utilising public transportation or a restroom. It might also illustrate what it is like to live with discrimination from society at large.
InclusionX brings an important point of how taking the first steps toward communication might assist to break down barriers. A person does not learn solely through books. The convergence of numerous aspects, such as interpersonal dynamics amongst friends, is an essential component. The youth can take necessary initiatives to integrate disabled people into the mainstream- ranging from sports, extra-curricular activities or social programmes. 0-5 years is considered as an early intervention period. The earlier necessary initiatives are made, the greater the possibility for improvement exists.
Furthermore, including pre-pregnancy training in private and government hospitals which encompasses the necessary information of normal development of a child might mentally prepare new parents to eliminate societal stigma.
As people with disabilities tend to isolate themselves, the younger generation can start by simply including a disabled friend or colleague in a conversation so they don't feel left out. InclusionX, which works to improve the disability spectrum, advises young parents to be mindful of the symptoms of physical and mental disability. In this dark shabby future for the disabled, InclusionX has been a beacon of hope for many.
The writer is a student at the Department of International Relations in Bangladesh University of Professionals.