International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) was observed on December 3 across the world, including in Bangladesh, to promote the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities and to take action for their inclusion in all aspects of society and development. The theme for IDPD this year was 'Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-Covid 19 world'.
It is a UN-sponsored day and the initiative to observe the IDPD was proclaimed in 1992, by the UN General Assembly resolution 47/3, aiming to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. 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.
Though the day is being observed in Bangladesh for a long time, People with Disabilities (PwDs) are still facing many barriers to inclusion in many key areas of our society. Hence, they do not enjoy access to rights society on an equal basis with others, which includes areas of transportation, employment and education as well as social and political participation.
When people are empowered they are better prepared to take advantage of opportunities, they become agents of change and can more readily embrace their civic responsibilities.
PwDs are mainly living a life of poverty in Bangladesh. 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 neglect due to misconception about them.
According to a survey of World Health Organization (WHO), about 8.0 per cent-10 per cent people in Bangladesh have impairment. According to that tally, there are roughly 17 million PwDs in our country.
PwDs have poor or little access to jobs, different government services, training and, above all, social justice. Most of them are leading a life of abject poverty in a sub-human condition. Their opinions are not generally heard and their rights are often violated resulting in their marginalization and exclusion. The formation of a separate ministry titled 'Disability Ministry' is essential for improving the condition of PwDs in respect of job, education, skill development training, ensuring social justice, assistance in natural calamities, ensuring social security and ending harassment to PwDs.
It would be helpful if a separate ministry is in place. This ministry would be helpful in increasing the 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.
Rights activists hoped that private organizations and NGOs along with the public ones would come forward for ensuring the rights of PwDs.
Initiatives have been undertaken at national as well as international levels 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 it came into force on May 3, 2008 to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedom by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.
Bangladesh's government had ratified it on November 30, 2007. After the ratification, Bangladesh is bound to take up programmes aimed at ensuring the rights of PwDs.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to act 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. Those are accessibility, full and active participation of PwDs in social, economic and state activities according to nature of disabilities; protection from oppression, and safe and healthy environment; accepting Sign language as main language by persons with Hearing and Speech impairments; formation of self-help groups and welfare organisations, 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 and mainstream the PwDs in the interest of our national development. But how? According to the rights activists, 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 Organisations (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, build good rapport and keep constant touch, liaison and communication with different ministries, departments and institutions.
The steps also include involving a large number of civil society members in PwDs' rights movement; make correlation between UNCRPD and SDG strategies of the government; ensure participation of PwDs in different platforms, committees and forums and to monitor SDG implementation.
All concerned should play their due role for formation of a rights-based inclusive society where all the people can enjoy their rights without any discrimination. We have a constitutional obligation to build up such society.
Article 19 of Bangladesh Constitution has called for ensuring equal opportunities to all the citizens. Article 28 (1) says that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of only religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
Article 28 (4) calls for making a special provision for the advancement of any backward section of citizens.
It is hoped that the PwDs would be integrated 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 writer is a freelance journalist