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     Volume 10 |Issue 48 | December 23, 2011 |


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Engaging the Future

Zarin Rafiuddin


When someone cannot walk, speak, hear and see, our cultural attitudes impose on them the definition of an invalid; a speck in the whole conundrum that we call society. Civilisation did not start with the iPad nor did common man start by being wise so why is it that when a person becomes unable to process the world via the “normal” way do we set them aside? Human beings fear what they cannot understand; they fear the “atypical” anatomy. Yet many disabled people have proven that the standard image of beauty, respect and capacity cannot apply to sheer determination, unique intelligence and an atomic way of adapting to the environment and prejudice that surrounds them. We need only to look at the story of Helen Keller, a woman who could not speak, hear or see, for the evidence of such triumphs.

This was the basic premise behind the workshop organised by the Centre for Disability in Development (CDD) on December 12, at the Westin Hotel. The workshop intended to chalk out ways for the corporate sector to make the lives of the disabled a little easier by providing certain services.

When CDD started in 1996 they knew very well that they had a long, difficult task ahead of them. They knew they were facing a society with an apathetic, even, unkind attitude towards people with disabilities. There were other impediments for the disabled: lack of proper equipment, the inaccessibility to services and needs and a dearth of research data and of course lack of funding. CDD mentions there was also a lack of proper policies and until the 2001 Disability Act it was quite difficult to have CSR for the disabled. According to statistics of the 7 billion people in the world 1 billion (15 percent) are disabled. The programme's chief guest, Dr. Atiur Rahman, Governor of Bangladesh Bank, stated that of the 9.0 percent of disabled people in Bangladesh only 11 percent have accessibility to formal education. He was one of signatories of the 2007 Disability Act and has always taken responsibilities towards the CSR objectives. In 2011 and 2012 the government has reserved Taka 1.0 billion to provide 2.86 lakhs of people in poverty who have disabilities. Bangladesh Bank has a separate cash counter for disabled people and has intentions of appointing one employee as the administrator to help the disabled customers.

There are other banks that are getting involved with CSR initiative such as Dutch-Bangla Bank (DBBL) who awarded full scholarships to five people with disabilities. DBBL also had their “Smile-Brighter Programme” which gave free surgeries to children with club-feet and also had given required plastic surgeries sans cost. Standard Chartered Bank has given cheques to 20 war injured freedom fighters and set up temporarily a venture for eye related problems. HSBC has given 30 blind students scholarships for three years and now that sum has become 50 this year. Despite CSR involvements being incorporated by many banks Dr. Atiur Rahman believes that there are “many more miles to walk”. And CDD has recognised this too with its developments over the years and now is proud to state that people from abroad come to their institution for training.

CSR has been expanding with 500 NGOs involved. Now CDD has around 200 physiotherapists, they are trying to establish the main needs of disabled people. They provide prosthetics and cleft-palate operations. CDD promotes the idea that helping the disabled is not a form of charity, it is a way to include them into the workplace so that the economy can benefit from them.

There are different types of disabilities and both the government and the citizens need to be aware of this. So, we must educate and modify devices to the needs of the specific person.

It is about time we realise that helping the disabled to lead productive lives will benefit society as a whole. Photo: Amirul Rajiv

Some of the core employees of CDD are themselves disabled. Gopal Chandra Saha (designation?) has been blind since birth yet he has always remained optimistic and felt it was his social obligation to overcome any barriers. Sharafat Ali, the computer graphics designer of CDD needs hearing assistance. RashidulAzamRussel has been with CDD for seven years and he has a Masters in Political Science; he is a computer operator, promotions monitor, file maintainer and a chief writer at the institute. But he has no arms and does all of these significant tasks with his feet. CDD had made for him a level chair and desk so he can more than adequately do his work. Then of course is Anika Rahman Lippy who had given the introductory speech to the workshop. Her excellent speech is amazing as she has not had any formal education and has been with CDD since its inception. People might assume that just because she is in a wheelchair that she may not accomplish much but this inspiring woman is the head training person and a coordinator in CDD. It is the intelligence and capacities of such remarkable individuals that make us realise that people who we think are handicapped have more potential than “normal” people and can surpass the potentials on those we usually think will strengthen our business sectors.

In an open discussion led by Dr. Nafeesur Rahman there were many participants such as Rodney Reed who thought the CSR initiaves led by the workshop were a positive effort. Then there was Taheea Huq who works with networking and ad promotion who would like to get involved with CDD in the efforts of campaigning awareness of the issues discussed. A representative of Apollo hospital agreed with the objectives of the workshop and said that Apollo's new mandatory procedure is a hearing test for new-borns so that they can see if the child would need a hearing aid or not in the future. But parents become reluctant to comply with such an examination revealing that the orthodox belief of the “healthy child” runs rampant in the corners of our society.

Asif Moyeen, one of the guests of honour of the programme and the managing director of Fareast Knitting and Dyeing Ltd also employs disabled people, had gone to Australia as a patron of Bangladesh for his actions. He was given an award for his CSR achievements but he feels that the CSR involvements now are still a drop in the ocean. In Australia he recounted how he saw people in their 70s still working and to have this sort of opportunity in our country would be a great sign of development.

Mohammad Nurul Kabir, the managing director of Jatio Protibondhi Unnayan Foundation (JPUF) which was established in 1999, informed that they have started 25 one stop umbrella centres that cater to the needs of the disabled which included mobile therapy serves, attempting to make two hostels and 55 schools. He knows that CSR will greatly influence and increase such endeavours.

What makes a person enlightened? Is it the shape of their face or the status of their wealth? Enlightenment does not focus on the physical; it focuses on the mental and spiritual. Annisul Huq remembered that two children painters in one of their schools, one legless and one deaf painted the best compared to others in an art competition. Talent is not the symmetry of your body but the symmetrical force in which you adapt to your surroundings and make use of the gifts God gave you. Disabled people aren't really disabled; it is society which is disabled to handle their needs.



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