A discussion-meeting on “Mainstreaming of Persons with Disabilities focusing Autism: Role of State & Non-State Actors” was held at a hotel in Dhaka on Thursday 04 April 2019.
A total of 72 Participants (Male-43, Female-29) were present from different GoB sectors, NGOs, Private sectors and other sectors.2 April was institutionalised by the UN in 2007 for the observance of “World Autism Awareness Day” to increase world awareness of the millions of autistic children in our world, and there are reports that awareness and research have indeed greatly increased as a result of the awareness day. This year UNDP observed the 12th Autism Day on 2 April 2019.
‘World Autism Awareness Day’ is observed to reaffirm the commitment to the values of equality, equity and inclusion and to promoting the full participation of all people with autism, by ensuring that they have the necessary tools to exercise their rights and fundamental freedom.
In the world today, autism is still increasing day by day. In India, one in every 58 persons is autistic. This figure is one in every five hundred for Bangladesh. The Government of Bangladesh has undertaken comprehensive programme to address autism in the country. Events such as workshops, discussion-meetings, seminars, etc., are platforms for effective discussion to address the issues related to autism.
The Government of Bangladesh started to address the rights of persons with disabilities from 2007. The Parliament of Bangladesh promulgated two important acts to protect the rights and ensure safety of the differently abled persons. One act is (i) The Disability Rights Law, 2013 and the other is (ii) Neuro Developmental Disability Protection Trust Act, 2013.
An 8-member “Advisory Committee on Autism and Neuro Developmental Disorders” headed by Saima Wazed Hossain helps the national steering committee develop priorities, design programs, devise implementation strategies, provide guidance on the appropriate use of resources, and identify necessary resources.
Though the Government of Bangladesh is champion in making people aware to address the rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWD) but still there is room for improvement and further work. Teachers sometimes denied admitting PWD in school, so the teachers need to be aware of the right of PWD. World Health Organisation is providing medicine to the PWD and developed few devices for them that they can talk.Bangladesh Disabled Development Trust (BDDT) is a non-governmental voluntary organisation working for developing the lives of persons with disabilities with 19 members. They seek to establish an institution for autistic persons with the support and permission of the government.
National Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Programme of UNDP formed 12 Thematic Committees so as not to leave anyone behind and to reach out to all vulnerable groups to the highest extent possible through their committees. One of these is related to Persons with Disabilities and it is an extraordinary Human Rights approach.
The 12 thematic committees have been formed by the commission to address all types of rights, categories of rights, encompassing every vulnerable group in every strata of the community.
The “World Autism Awareness Day” event was organised by the thematic committee addressing the issues of disability and autism. This thematic committee is led by the Honourable Chairperson of National Human Rights Commission, Kazi Reazul Hoque. The committee has been continuously working on the subject of mainstreaming persons with disabilities and making extraordinary progress. One of the notable achievements of this committee was the advocacy towards getting the national action plan on persons with disabilities adopted.
Dr. Gowher Rizvi, International Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister, the chief guest at the event, highlighted in his speech that we have many things to do for PWD. He added that individual person also has own responsibility to do something for PWD rather than depending on the government assistance. He cited an example that ‘Beautiful Mind’ a non-state actor is working for PWD without any self-interest.
He told that all jargons related to PWD are not decent, so we need to work with rights of person with differently able person. Family should provide support to the PWD people not caring about social stigma as it is not a disease, it is a condition of people.
We need to be clear about normal and abnormal. All people of societies have responsibilities to take affirmative action. We need to create level playing field for them for any competition to identify the champion.
Private sectors are not taking enough affirmative action for PWD. They can hire the PWD as employees and empower the strengths of the PWD and make an environment so that they can work smoothly.
We must ensure their facilities in everywhere in Bus, working place and other places that they can feel comfort and move smoothly. We need to avoid all sorts of discrimination in autism in all cases, similar to racism.
Kazi Reazul Hoque, Honourable Chairman, National Human Rights Commission delivered his speech at the end of the inaugural session and highlighted that PWD people have social justice, human dignity and rights in the state.
We are not providing sympathy to them rather it is our moral responsibly and duty. He cited that two PWD children prepared a calendar and got prize from Honourable Prime Minister. So, we have to bring them in mainstream to recognise their creativity. We need to identify where they can contribute more.
Dr. Golam Rabbani, Chairperson, Neuro-Developmental Disability Protection Trust Board, special guest at the session, highlighted that it is necessary to strengthen the commitment to the full inclusion and participation of people with autism against discrimination. Autism may happen during delivery or at any time during the lifespan of a person. Persons with Disability have no language to say their rights as they are intellectually challenged. So we should speak for their cause.
Sharmeela Rassool, Chief Technical Adviser, HRP-UNDP shared the four objectives of the “World Autism Awareness Day” discussion.
1. First and foremost objective is to take stock of what is the extent of implementation of obligations of the Government of Bangladesh towards the PWD under the domestic system and also the international obligations. This is a pertinent matter because states will be reviewed in 2020 on the Convention on Persons with Disabilities.
2. The second objective is to actually see in the process of implementation, to what extent we have successfully been able to mainstream the rights of the persons with disabilities with other human rights.
3. The third objective is to ensure that the progress made by Bangladesh, which has come a long way, has gained much momemtum and has achieved much in this subject, remains intact and moves on forward. To this end, for continued strength and effort in the subject the role by the state and non-state actors must be up to expectation. So the third objective is to ensure that the state and non-state actors contribute to continued efforts to promote the rights of the persons with disabilities.
4. Last but not least is to celebrate and mark the ‘International Autism Awareness Day’ and to celebrate the diversity of our community. To ensure that the human community retains its full potential, how do we as a community that is aware about the rights of persons with disabilities help the journey of the people who have undertaken to support the rights of persons with autism and how do we keep that beautiful work alive that have been taken forward by so many.
The related work is a journey in trying to convert the approach taken by the majority towards the disabled person which is often charity based, thinking that it is a pitiful situation, that it is a challenge, a sympathetic situation where they deserve their sympathy.
From that approach we are now progressing towards a human-right based approach where we will not be making the persons with disabilities think that they are broken or incomplete, because they are not incomplete.
The problem lies not with the persons with disabilities but with the environment that they live in. If the environment can provide the needed infrastructure, the right approach, we will be able to change from what is ‘I am impossible’ to ‘I am possible’.
This approach is of course not a one day matter. The results will not be visible overnight. It will be the outcome of a series of efforts and events taken forward by the advocates - the authority for human rights in Bangladesh, the NHRC. The UNDP supports the NHRC in organising such events and to encourage so that the discourse on the human rights dialogue remains alive and is not swept under the carpet.
The daily sun Human Rights desk