It is a matter of fact that the disabled have been oppressed, marginalised and stigmatised in almost all societies throughout centuries. A disability is any continuing condition that restricts everyday activities.
Disabilities can affect a person’s capacity to communicate, interact with others, learn and get about independently. Disability can be caused by many factors. Analysis of the causes of disability from a medical or bio-centric standpoint tends to emphasise disease, hereditary and birth defects over systemic and environmental factors. Genetic factors and lack of access to basic services can also lead to a person’s becoming disabled, for example, before birth (poor nutrition, improper medication, taking drugs, smoking cigarettes, mother exposed to disease, mental or physical trauma), during birth (premature delivery, complicated delivery), after birth (malnutrition, lack of vaccination, infections like meningitis polio, accident, trauma, toxic substance etc.). Disability can also occur because of an accident, wrong pathological diagnosis, lack of trained birth attendants and nurses, crime and violence, acid burn, child marriage, marriage between close relations, and also because of lack of knowledge and awareness among care providers.
Estimates indicate that 10% of the population i.e. 16 million people are living with a disability and these are one of the most vulnerable groups as they receive little or no assistance. Disabled people live in an unfriendly setting. They usually encounter non-cooperation, ill-treatment and neglect in both family and society. They are deprived not only of social and political needs but also simple human needs. Still they are deprived of employment, education opportunities, and health care.
Poverty is both a cause and consequence of disability. Poor people are more likely to become disabled, and disabled people are more likely to become poor. Poverty has many aspects and is more than just a lack of money or income: Poverty erodes or nullifies economic and social rights such as the right to health, adequate housing, food and safe water, and the right to education. While not all persons with disabilities are poor, in low-income countries persons with disabilities are over-represented among the poorest.
Persons with disabilities are the worst sufferers in each phase of disaster. At the pre-disaster phase the major issues include access to information and accessibility to shelter. Persons with disabilities like hearing impairment and intellectual disability can’t access the mass media information services; they often depend on others to act on their behalf. During the disaster phase the major problems are the absence of special care facilities required for the persons with disabilities. The huge gap of awareness about disability and the person with disabilities in general among the population often results in mistreatment and negative attitude.
However, the Constitution of Bangladesh recognises the rights of vulnerable segments of the population, including those with disabilities. It has numerous provisions that obligate the government to protect the rights and dignity of all citizens of the country equally and without any bias whatsoever. The Constitution of Bangladesh also allows room for additional and supplementary provisions that will ensure that citizens who do not have access to all the public amenities are able to obtain such services. This has given the government ample opportunities to adopt legislative and policy frameworks for the development of the full potentials of persons with disabilities in the country.
The enactment of the Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act 2013 which has given new hope to the situation of persons with disabilities as the provisions of the Act not only established the rights of the disabled to protect their dignity, but also ensured their full participation in social and state activities removing all forms of discrimination.
The government of Bangladesh has included issue of special education of the people with disabilities in the National Education Policy. They are providing financial support to the educational programmes of NGOs. The Ministry runs National Centre for Special Education (NCSE) for human resource development. The NCSE was established in 1991 with the financial and technical assistance from three Norwegian NGOs, namely, the Norwegian Association for the Blind and Partially Sighted (NABP), Norwegian Association of the Deaf (NAD) and Norwegian Association for the Intellectually Disabled (NFU) with the objectives of training of staff, assessment, training and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, development of aids and methods, counselling etc.
The government has incorporated appropriate provisions for prevention of avoidable disablement and proper medical and rehabilitation measure for person with disabilities in the National Health Policy. Medical college hospitals and medical centres including all other health care outlets and institutions have been given the directives from the department of health to take care of the persons with disabilities in relation to health and medical issue. Child development centre including early intervention related activities has been opened at Dhaka Shishu Hospital and all medical colleges. A new department has recently been opened at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University for taking care of the children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The title of the department is “Department of Neuro Development and Autism.”
The government has increased the rate of allowance for financially insolvent disabled persons to Tk. 700, increasing it by Tk. 100 and raising the number of beneficiaries by 10 per cent which will raise the total number to 8.25 lakh. The government has increased the number of beneficiaries of the educational stipend allowances for the disabled person both at the primary and secondary levels by 10,000 adding 5,000 at each level.
Disability has been globally recognised as a development issue and has created a very positive impact on development initiatives in Bangladesh.
The development organisations working with disability related issues are at this stage looking for systematic intervention to address the need of the disabled people in Bangladesh. The government is working relentlessly for the welfare of the disabled people. It has taken steps to set up technical training centres in all divisions across the country while Disabled Service and Aid Centre is being constructed with the financial support of the government to provide healthcare facilities to them. The projects are being implemented in five districts at present which would be expanded up to all districts and upazilas across the country in phases. A development project titled “Promotion of Services and Opportunities to the Disabled Persons in Bangladesh” is being implemented at a cost of Taka 155 crore under National Disabled Development Foundation.
But still disability is not recognised as a crosscutting development issue in Bangladesh. Disabled persons are not a burden on society. They would be able to contribute more for the development of society if they get scope from society in this regard.
The writer is an Assistant Professor,
Department of Public Administration,
Jagannath University, Dhaka