There is little discussion in general on the wellbeing of differently-abled people in our society that usually ignores them. But there are numerous examples that show if these people are given right opportunities they can contribute to society like any other person.
According to the Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics 2016, nine out of every 1,000 people in this country have some form of disabilities (gender-wise, 9.8 per cent are males and 8.3 per cent females). It also revealed that 6.8 per cent of urban people have disabilities while in rural areas 10.8 per cent have such conditions. In secondary schools, over eight in every 1,000 students have disabilities and the number is increasing day by day. Recurrent incidents of road accidents and factory fire and other forms of accidents are making the situation worse.
It is evident that persons with disabilities are more likely to experience economic and social disadvantages than those without disability. There are many reasons for this - ranging from the limitations that arise from physical and mental impairment to the disabling impact of discrimination and a wide array of other societal barriers. They can be included in mainstream development programme through reducing social, attitudinal, environmental and policy barriers. In a word, the state should enact and implement disability-friendly policies.
Although opportunities were being created, many of them were still deprived of their due rights because of social stigma and a lack of awareness among the parents. With proper skills development training, persons with disabilities can get jobs and contribute to the economy.
The cause and reinforcement of disability and poverty are inter-related and contributory to each other. Poor nutrition, dangerous working and living conditions, limited access to healthcare, poor hygiene, bad sanitation, inadequate information about causes of impairment, war and conflict and natural disasters create disabilities of which as many as 50 per cent are preventable. Disability, particularly of the head of household, exacerbates poverty of the whole family due to increased expenses, lack of income from the 'carer' and lack of opportunities due to social exclusion. In Bangladesh, most people with disabilities live in the rural areas. They and sometimes also their families are often excluded both from their communities and from development initiatives. The most vulnerable ones are women and children with disabilities.
Persons with disabilities have the right to equity and non-discrimination, right to respect for home and family, right to health and rehabilitation, right to quality education, right to protection from exploitation, violence and abuse, right to participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport etc.
The realisation of rights for persons with disabilities in Bangladesh is quite uneven. For the lucky few, there are highly developed inclusive and specialised intervention models meeting international standards and state-of-the-art training programmes. For the majority, there are limited capacities and inadequate basic services. Underlying this situation is pervasive discrimination against persons with disabilities at all levels. Qualified people with minor physical challenge can get into the mainstream. Main challenge is the typical mindset of the employers although it is proven that they are more productive and sincere than the mainstream people.
Differently abled people have constitutional rights to vote. But they are deprived of their basic rights. Sometimes, they are even cheated at receiving the social safety net programmes. We treat them as second-class citizens. We failed to build a friendly family or society or state for these physically challenged people. Parents even tend to hide their physically challenged children.
In Bangladesh, the access and opportunity for both technical and vocational training are limited. One of the effective ways of enabling persons with disabilities for livelihoods is to improve their access to informal training that is locally-based and create more access to microfinance institutes to engage them in self-employment.
The government had declared quota for persons with disabilities along with the orphans in selected grades of government jobs. But this was not adequately practiced in majority of the recruitments. Negative attitude towards the abilities of persons with disabilities, inaccessible workplace and rigidity in policy have created obstacles to waged employment for them even in the government sector.
Keeping everything in mind, development activists with empathy for differently-abled people laid foundation stone to set up state-of-the-art 'one stop' service centre named 'Agroho'. Differently-abled people and destitute will be ready for the open labour market or self-employment if provided with skills, mentoring and vocational training (in Dhaka and at the grassroots level). Agroho will make special arrangements for showcasing different types of products made by them so that employers can learn about the potentials of differently-abled people. Agroho is working on livelihoods for differently-abled people and destitute to enhance their efforts on capacity building and on business management skill. It has also started providing support with start-up capital and regular follow-up so that they can start business after receiving training which will help them get involved in self-employment as access to bank loans is limited for them as of now.
We must realise that the differently-abled people are not burden to their family or society and they are not a homogenous, but a very heterogeneous, group. If we talk about accessibility, we have to work for reducing stigma for a person with mental illness. It is not only about mainstream disabilities. We have to include some other people who are not even properly represented. We need to arrange inclusive trainings for every type of disabilities. The skilled worker with disabilities is still in demand. These disabled people are living with dignity.
The government, corporate entities, NGOs, RMG and manufacturing sectors and other related employers need to come forward to create employment opportunities for persons with disabilities because 13 of the 17 SDGs are closely related with disability issues. Therefore, we have to bring them in the mainstream and facilitate their access to education and jobs in a bid to achieve the SDG targets.
Dalia Rahman (email@example.com) is the founder and chairperson of AGROHO.
ATM Ridwanul Haque (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Cheif Executive, AGROHO.
Published: March 04, 2018 22:01:21, The Financial Express