People should change the mindset towards the physically-impaired and help flourish their potential to the fullest, speakers at a dialogue said yesterday.
Hardly any step was taken from any corner of the society till now to help the physically challenged people, who account for 10-15 percent of the total population, get out of their predicament, Industries Minister Dilip Barua said.
The observations came at a national dialogue on "Improving livelihood of peoples with disabilities: enhancing skills and employment in readymade garments and beyond" at the The Daily Star centre in the capital.
The programme was part of the campaign to establish equal rights of the country's more than 1.45 crore physically challenged people.
The participants began the programme by observing one-minute silence in remembrance of the 111 garment workers who had been killed in a deadly fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Ashulia last week.
The able-bodied people became the barrier to the physically challenged ones enjoying their rights, the speakers said.
They called for skill development programmes for the physically-challenged so that they could fulfil the need for additional workforce at industrial units.
"They [the physically-impaired] have been ignored," the chief guest at the discussion, Dilip Barua said. Though the constitution guarantees equal rights to them, they have limited access to health, education and other facilities.
Physically-challenged people had proved that they, if given congenial atmosphere and opportunity, could achieve anything, Dilip Barua noted.
William Hana, ambassador of the European Union to Bangladesh, said, "We have to look for the abilities of the physically-challenged people."
Quoting a World Bank report, he said Bangladesh could have gained 18 percent higher growth in gross domestic product had it been able to build up the capacity of the physically-challenged to contribute to the economy.
"We have to identify qualities of the physically challenged people" and accordingly select sectors for them, Mohammad Hatem, first vice-president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), said.
He also said the physically-challenged having good educational degrees could be appointed to mid-level positions at garment factories.
Mosharraf Hossain, country director of Action on Disability and Development (ADD) International, a UK-based development agency, said that initially they targeted the readymade garment sector to create jobs for the people with physical challenges as it has now 25 percent labour shortage.
The sector will be able to create more jobs as McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, has recently forecast that Bangladesh's apparel sector has the potential to increase its export earning to between $36 billion and $42 billion in a decade from $20 billion at present.
AKM Manjurul Haque, director general of Youth Development, said, "It has been proved that they perform better than others. They are not the people with disabilities; the disabilities lie with us."
Brig Gen (retd) Shahedul Anam Khan, editor, defence and strategic affairs of The Daily Star, said, "We have to create avenues so that the physically-challenged people can become productive and contribute to the society."
Farzana Swapna, a visually impaired who did her honours and masters from Dhaka University, said that despite several attempts she could not get a government job.
"The scope is very limited"
There is a quota for the physically-challenged in Bangladesh Civil Service but to get the opportunity, they need to pass preliminary and written tests, competing with general students, Farzana said, adding the discrimination is more in the private sector.
ADD International and The Daily Star organised the discussion in association with Shiree. The Department For International Development funded the programme.
Dr Salehuddin Ahmed, managing editor of The Daily Star; M Ehsanur Rahman, executive director of Dhaka Ahsania Mission; A Gafur, executive director of American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh; Shahin Akhtar Dolly, executive director of Nari Maitree, and Shazia Omar, head of advocacy of Shiree, were also present.