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     Volume 7 Issue 11 | March 14, 2008 |

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Human Rights

The Practical Approach
to Disability

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Access to education, information and basic health services should be ensured for every person with disability.

It is a horrible probability of life that at any given point in time any one of us may meet with a terrible accident or incurable ailment that will leave a part of our bodies unusable for life; it will put us in the category of the 'disabled'. Not a very happy image but one that we all must keep in mind every time we look at a person with disability and think of him or her as belonging to a separate group of people. The point is that the disabled are a part of our society, our community. More importantly, it is our responsibility as a nation to make sure that people with disability can be supported in such a way that they can lead productive, meaningful lives, without facing stigma, discrimination and utter isolation. This is not a matter of mere compassion or altruism, it is the most logical step for any country that wishes to progress and develop.

It is with the purpose of drawing maximum attention to this issue that The Asia & Pacific Disability Forum organised its general assembly and Conference, a three-day event from February 27 to February 29 at the China Bangladesh Friendship Conference Centre. Aptly titled 'Disability &Development - Practical Strategies' the programme was organised by National Forum of Organisations Working with the Disabled (NFOWD) and Asia Pacific Disability Forum (APDF) in cooperation with the Bangladesh government.

The event was attended by an impressive 456 participants including 150 foreign participants from 26 countries.

Getting employment is a major challenge.

The conference also brought in some important guests including the Chief Advisor, Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, the chief guest, and the president of NFOWD Khandakar Jahurul Alam who chaired the opening session. The keynote address was given by the chairperson of the organising committee of the event Monsur Ahmed Chowdhuri.

A large number of issues related to disability and the rights of the disabled were discussed. They included international conventions, national policy and legislation, economic emancipation, preventive steps, accessibility to technologies, to sports, recreation, entertainment and tourism, education and children with disabilities.

Monsur Ahmed Chowdhuri, Director and Trustee, Impact Foundation Bangladesh in his key note address traced the way the perception of disability has evolved from being a mere charity issue, to a medical problem with hardly any attention given to the social aspect of disability a the notion of integration. It was as late as 1975 that The UN Assembly discussed the issue for the first time. 1981 was declared the International Year of Disabled Persons and the UN Decade of Disabled Persons was declared from 1983 to 1992. In 1993 the UN Standard Rules strongly called for actions that would ensure equal rights of people with disabilities as others in the world community. While many regions took this as a cue to come up with their own decades for the disabled, it was the drafting of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2001 that heightened the significance of the issue. In August 2006 the convention, which was ratified by Bangladesh, was completed.
Monsur Ahmed Chowdhury reads his keynote paper

Chowdhuri appreciated the efforts of the Bangladesh government in establishing 46 focal points in different ministries, divisions and departments to oversee the interest of people with disabilities in their planning, resource allocation and execution. "Disability is the cause and effect of poverty," said Chowdhuri, pointing out that very little resources are allocated for disabled people.

He also reiterated the reality of a lack of awareness, technical capacity, skilled human resources and financial resources that stand in the way of allowing disabled people to actively participate in the development process.

The conference that included numerous presentations came up with an extensive list of recommendations under each subject.

At the inaugural session of the three-day conference, where Chief Advisor Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed was chief guest.

One of the important themes discussed was access to information, which is a right for all persons with disabilities. This is perhaps the biggest hurdle that people with disabilities have to face in their pursuit of sustainable employment or regular education. In countries like Bangladesh where information is still inaccessible to most of its citizens, one can only imagine the limitations inflicted on people with disabilities. Visually-challenged people, for instance, need software in their own language at affordable costs. The state should make sign language mandatory for television programmes and other mediums of communication. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) must be translated into local languages with user-friendly versions such as Braille, audio, large print etc.

Getting access to education is one of the biggest challenges a disabled person faces from a very early age, one that can actually decide whether such an individual will be able to lead an independent, rewarding life or constantly be at the mercy of other people's charity. There are innumerable instances of children with even minor disability not being accepted at regular schools just because the teachers do not want to make the effort, of kids with disability dropping out of school after being taunted by their classmates or ignored by their teachers. Higher education such as at the university level is even more of a far-fetched dream. The papers presented at the Conference provided solutions to the lack of accessibility. Apart from quotas to accommodate persons with disabilities in education institutions and workplaces, recommendations included: reasonable accommodations near the workplace, people with disabilities should be the 'main voice' to advocate for their rights and needs, mainstream vocational training must include people with disabilities.

A crucial aspect of education that was emphasised upon was 'inclusive' education which would include children with disabilities into mainstream education. Children identified with learning difficulties, multiple disabilities therefore, should have the opportunity to get admitted into schools on an equal basis with others. Interestingly, participants at the conference proposed removing all factors that promote a segregated society in the name of special education. National education policy and curriculum must address disability issues. Better training opportunities for teachers of children with disabilities must be provided.

A person with disability must be treated as part of mainstream society

A handful of recommendations were cited regarding women with disabilities whose marginalisation is compounded because of their physical impairment. Development programmes must include the issue of women with disabilities, measures to prevent abuse on women and girls with disabilities have to be taken, their health needs, reproductive rights have to be protected and ensured.

An unforgivable number of people become disabled all over the world because of avoidable causes. The conference highlighted the different strategies to prevent avoidable disablement. The first step is of course, giving people information on prevention such as identifying a medical condition in an infant at the early stage and getting medical help. The government and development agencies must take initiatives to provide improved training and better ante and post natal care, better nutrition to prevent avoidable diseases that may cause disabilities. The public health system must be reorganised so that it provides preventive, curative and rehabilitative services.

The conference, therefore, went into the greatest details about the problems and challenges faced by people with disabilities and how to take practical steps to address them. The event most of all, highlighted the fact that we need to change our attitude towards the issue of disability in more ways than one. We must sincerely try to include people with disabilities into mainstream life by providing them with opportunities to be educated and employed, by ensuring access to information and technology and by making their lives a little easier through special infrastructure ( handicap parking, lanes at public buildings for instance) and basic public services. Enabling the disabled is not an issue of humane behaviour, it is about being responsible for all members of our own communities, but more so for those who are disadvantaged by poverty and disability.


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