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    Volume 9 Issue 32| August 6, 2010|

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Human Rights

A More Meaningful Law for the Disabled

Farhana Urmee

The draft amendment would ensure all kinds of public infrastructure and facilitate handicap accessibility.

The phone goes on ringing. Once, twice and so on while Nazia tries to count how many times a phone rings in a single call. Nazia knows she won't be able to complete the count as there must be someone to pick it up. Nazia can't hear anyone approaching the phone and it rings eleven times before going silent.

The phone rings again, third time in a row. Nazia wishes desperately that someone would answer it. Waiting on a wooden chair for an unofficial interview at her university administrative building. Perhaps the operator is absent thinks Nazia, or maybe they don't even have one. Nazia feels a little optimistic thinking that maybe she could get a job as an operator.

Visually impaired, Nazia has completed masters in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Dhaka and is expecting a job at the university.

Unfortunately, this does not happen as she cannot answer the single question during the interview, “what can you do?”

Four months later.
Standing on the raised footpath in Mohammadpur Nazia calls for a rickshaw. Unlike everyone she cannot see which one is empty or carrying a passenger Nazia goes on calling, “Rickshaw, Rickshaw.”

Eventually she finds one but it is not easy to get onto it when you are blind. Nazia, finally finds a job at an NGO, but the salary is too low to make ends meet.

Nazia cannot even afford a place to stay with her widowed mother who lives in Shariyatpur. For Nazia nothing is more important than having her mom beside her. In any case, most home owners are reluctant about renting to single women. For now Nazia has to stay at Mohammadpur Mohila College hostel.

Being a single woman and visually impaired, it is unlikely that Nazia will ever be able to live with her mother in the city. Chances are that she will continue to live in hostels in a country where most people think that ensuring basic facilities to disabled people is considered “welfare”.

The proposed amendment preserves the rights of women with disabilities.

About 400 NGOs have grown over the years and all of them have been holding seminars and roundtables for years demanding rights to Persons With Disabilities', apparently failing to get even an appropriate law for them yet.

It took over a year and several committees of experts and a huge fund to prepare a draft for a new law that contains an appropriate definition of people with disability.

The existing law 'Bangladesh Disability Welfare Act 2001' even lacks a proper definition of persons with disability, let alone their rights to education, employment and rehabilitation.

In contrast, neighbouring India has three different laws preserving the rights of the persons with disability---Mentally Handicapped Persons Act 1991, Persons With Disabilities Act 1995 and National Trust Act 1999.

However, the new draft law promises to ensure loan and business facilities on a priority basis for disabled persons.

Individuals like Nazia might see some hope at last as the draft is likely to introduce quota system for government and private jobs for the disabled.

The new law would make it obligatory for organisations to employ disabled as ten percent of the population is disabled. If anyone cannot employ them under circumstances, they will have to pay a certain amount of money to the 'development fund for the disabled.'

According to the draft amendment the state must identify appropriate jobs for 'Persons With Disabilities' and recruit them in these particular jobs on a priority basis. A person with disability will get equal salary as any other person, a healthy and secure work environment, retirement pension and other facilities under the law. The state, moreover, must ensure ten per cent proportion of any poverty eradication or social safety-net programme for disabled persons.

This particular law has been drafted to ensure people with disabilities the right to education, health care, employment, housing, rehabilitation, social security, language and communication (the use of sign language in media for example), participation in sports, cultural and recreational activities as well as participation in political and public life.

The amended law has also introduced clauses on the rights of free movement and physical accessibility of differently challenged persons.

Experts say the amended law would hopefully recognise the basic rights of a disabled person as a citizen of the country unlike the existing act, which completely ignores them.

The existing act, the rule for which took seven years to materialise, lacks any incentive to obey the law, despite having a provision of punitive action in the law, there is no authority to execute the punishment which is quite ineffectual anyway according to law expert Advocate Mosharraf Hossain.

The present draft categorically says that the State's role is to ensure education for persons with disabilities.

An inclusive education system is mandatory, where educational institutes must have appropriate education programmes and the required environment for students with special needs. The State is also required to rehabilitate a person with disability deprived of family support.

Regarding free movement and accessibility, the draft law would ensure physical access to any government, autonomous and private organisations. This means making all kinds of public infrastructure and facilities handicap accessible. It will include buildings, roads and streets, vehicles, foot path, educational institutions, housing, court, hospital, Thana, rail station, bus and launch terminals, air port, library, public toilets, cyclone centres, recreation centers, tourist spots, and other public places.

Specific clauses have been incorporated into the law to make it more effective. The state for example, must take measures to make it easy for visually impaired people to identify different kinds of bank notes and coins. A National Disability Right Commission to monitor and ensure the basic rights of disabled has to be established. The government has to devise and develop a standard Bangla sign language and implement it in public places for persons with hearing-impairment.

This law also preserves the rights of the disabled persons who are additionally disadvantaged because they are women, children or senior citizens, disabled members of an ethnic community, disabled refugees, disabled hermaphrodites and members of other communities living on the fringes of society. It also takes into account the life risk of a person with disability during disasters, natural calamities or any sort of crisis.

However, the amended law needs to have an action plan; if the law would have a ten years action plan attached with it, it would be an effective law. Terming the amended law a more 'wishful' one Advocate Syed Rezwana Hasan said, “The government must prioritize some particular rights (like the right to rehabilitation) in the law rather than addressing every issue equally.”

“Formulating or amending law is not enough,” says Mansur Ahmed Chowdhury, Member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Persons With Disability. “The Government must amend the 'Rules of Business' for different ministries for actual implementation of the law and an inter-ministerial coordination is also a must.”

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