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Dhaka Tribune

Towards a disability-inclusive Smart Bangladesh

The inclusion of every citizen is integral to achieving our ultimate goal

Update : 03 Dec 2023, 03:18 PM

In Bangladesh, numerous organizations, including the Ministry of Social Welfare, are actively participating in the celebration of the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, reflecting the nation's commitment to inclusivity.

As the country embraces this paradigm shift, statistics play a pivotal role in understanding the magnitude of the task at hand. Recent data from the National Survey on Persons with Disabilities (NSPD) 2021 reveals that approximately 2.80% of the Bangladeshi population, equivalent to 47.42 lakh individuals, face various forms of disabilities. 

However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the percentage of citizens with disabilities in Bangladesh is estimated to be around 10-15%. This divergence in figures underscores the complexity of the demographic challenge, emphasizing the urgency of ensuring that advancements in technology do not inadvertently exclude a significant portion of the population.

Bangladesh's pro-active approach to disability rights has garnered international acclaim, exemplified by its early signing and ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This commitment extends beyond legal frameworks to concrete actions, with the enactment of the Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act in 2013. This legislative framework underscores the importance of digital inclusion and accessibility, recognizing that a truly equitable society ensures equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

In commemorating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Bangladesh reaffirms its dedication to creating an inclusive society that upholds the principles of the UNCRPD. The theme for this year reflects a collective commitment to achieving the SDGs, with a specific focus on persons with disabilities. The emphasis on unity in action signifies a shift towards a more holistic and cooperative approach, acknowledging that the inclusion of every citizen is integral to achieving sustainable development.

The celebration involves various events and initiatives organized by governmental and non-governmental entities, highlighting the progress made and the challenges that lie ahead. These activities include awareness campaigns, educational workshops, and cultural events aimed at fostering understanding and empathy towards persons with disabilities. Through these initiatives, the goal is to break down barriers and promote a society where everyone, regardless of their abilities, can actively participate and contribute.

One of the key focal points of this year's celebration is the acknowledgment of the crucial role technology plays in the lives of persons with disabilities. While technological advancements have the potential to enhance accessibility, there is a growing need to ensure that these innovations are inclusive and considerate of diverse needs. 

The digital landscape should be designed to empower individuals with disabilities, providing them with the tools and resources necessary for full participation in various aspects of life, including education, employment, and civic engagement.

Despite the progress made in legislation and societal attitudes, challenges persist, emphasizing the ongoing need for concerted efforts. Issues such as accessible infrastructure, employment opportunities, and healthcare accessibility remain at the forefront of the agenda. The celebration of this day serves as a platform to advocate for positive change, encouraging policymakers, businesses, and communities to work collaboratively towards a more inclusive future.

The government of Bangladesh, recognizing the importance of inclusivity, has made substantial commitments to advance disability rights and inclusion. Also, the current government’s political manifesto addresses the disability issues. 

As the election is approaching, all political parties must include disability issues in their political manifesto. These must include pledges to enhance accessibility in public spaces, making infrastructure, transportation and government services more inclusive and accommodating, prioritizing inclusive education by adapting inclusive eco-system, a commitment to fostering employability opportunities for individuals with disabilities, development of utilization of assistive technology, and many more. 

Bangladeshis with disabilities hold high expectations, hoping for the effective implementation of existing laws, policy coherence and meaningful representation in the decision-making process. As the government strides towards creating a more inclusive society, the disability community remains optimistic that these commitments will translate into transformative actions, fostering a Bangladesh where every citizen, irrespective of ability, can lead a dignified and fulfilling life.

Today, Bangladesh is not only celebrating achievements but also reflecting on the journey ahead. Through continued commitment, collaboration, and a focus on leveraging technology for inclusivity, Bangladesh can strive to build a future where every citizen, regardless of ability, can thrive and contribute meaningfully to the nation's progress towards a disability-inclusive Smart Bangladesh.

Vashkar Bhattacharjee, a person with visual disability, serves as the National Accessibility Consultant for a2i. He is also involved with YPSA (Young Power in Social Action), an organization for sustainable development, and provides advisory support towards its disability portfolio. He has worked to advance inclusive development and humanitarian action for over 18 years.

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