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Paving the way

  • Published at 12:02 am December 3rd, 2019
Wheelchair access
No way up. BIGSTOCK

Persons with disabilities still face numerous everyday challenges in our country

Bangladesh, which is graduating from the least developed country status, has become one of Asia’s most remarkable success stories in the recent years. HSBC Global Research projected Bangladesh to be a $700 billion economy in 2030, after all.

Development is taking place rapidly across Bangladesh, there is no doubt. Dhaka is perhaps going through the development activities in the largest scale ever with metro rails being constructed alongside high-rising buildings, shopping malls, and educational institutes.

But will this development benefit everyone in the country? More specifically, will the nation’s persons with disabilities be able to think that their beloved city is now more sensitive to their special needs?

December 3 is the International Day for the Persons with Disabilities. The day is being observed in Bangladesh along with 176 other countries to uphold this year’s theme “Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: Taking action on the 2030 development agenda.”

At present, there are more than one billion people in the world live with some form of disability. According to WHO, about 15% of the world’s total population have some form of disability; the organization also shows that one in every five persons in the developing world lives with some form of disability.

Dhaka, a city of more than 20 million people, is also home to a large number of disabled persons -- and it is a matter of regret that the city still does not care for them. From homes to footpaths, educational institutes to public transport, the mobility of the persons with disabilities is obstructed everywhere it seems.

Even though the Disability Right and Protection Act 2013 was enacted -- which upholds provision to protect the rights of persons with disabilities and ensure accessibility in common infrastructure -- implementation is still a far cry.

Our transport and communication sector, which has got the third highest share of the total budget, has no specific allocation to make roads, highways, footpaths, footbridges, and public transport more disabled-friendly.

In fact, ministries at the secretariat do not have any ramps or pavements for the persons with disabilities at all.

Section 32 of the Rights and Protection of Persons with Disability Act 2013 states that 5% of seats in any public transport should be reserved for persons with disabilities -- the reality is, of course, different from what the law spells out. Most of the buses, trains, or launch stations do not have necessary infrastructure and support systems in place for these individuals. Therefore, persons with disabilities face a huge problem in the public transport space.

Apart from this, using the train is next to impossible for the disabled people in Bangladesh, considering that even a fully able-bodied person faces difficulties getting onto a train.

According to data obtained from Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), around 4.5 million journeys were undertaken by persons with disabilities (PWDs) through the Sadarghat-Barishal launch terminal between 2017-18. However, there has been little support delivered to persons with disabilities travelling from the capital’s launch terminal.

There is a misconception that ensuring accessibility for persons with disabilities in Dhaka is expensive and unrealistic. The reality is that certain accessibility arrangements are simple and can be easily provided. Though it is also true that some are complex, any attempts at providing accessibility always helps.

Increasing access means creating an environment that can be used by everyone, including  persons with disabilities. By using signage, visual or auditory announcements, assistive services, and slip-resistant paths we can ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.

Awareness plays a significant role in ensuring inclusive practises, and there is a greater need to change our perception towards persons with disabilities as well. Policy-makers must realize that persons with disabilities can also pro-actively participate in the economy if they get necessary support and cooperation.

The government should also implement the national action plan on disability, which identifies and proposes a large number of measures to be taken by  relevant actors to ensure inclusive practises.  The government should also give special emphasis on skills development, accessible education, accessibility in the public transport, job creation, and health access to  persons with disabilities.

Several international organizations are implementing specific programs for  persons with disabilities in Bangladesh. The government should also work closely with them to bring about positive changes in the country.

Whether we want it or not, all of us are likely to experience some form of disability at some point of life, particularly when we grow older. However, disability inclusion has yet to be made a priority in the policy-making framework in our country. If such a large number of people remain unproductive due to lack of proper accessibility and inclusion in our society, our national progress will also be hindered and sporadic. 

Ayon Debnath is a development practitioner and currently working at Sightsavers, a UK-based INGO.

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