Barrister Rizwana Yusuf
Over a billion people in the world suffer from some form of disability which means one in every seven person has an ability challenge to overcome. Throughout the world, persons with disabilities face not only physical barriers but also social, economic and attitudinal barriers. And these are the main reasons why poverty is much higher among people with disability.
The observance of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) provides an opportunity to reinforce our awareness of disability as a cross-cutting development issue. The theme of this year’s commemoration, “Sustainable Development: The promise of technology”. The 2014 commemoration of IDPD will work to harness the power of technology to promote inclusion and accessibility to help realize the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society and shape the future of sustainable development for all!
ICTs have indeed changed the way people live, work and play. However, not all people benefit from the advances of technology and the higher standards of living. This is mainly because not all people have access to new technologies and not all people can afford them. This ICT has opened up many new opportunities for citizens and consumers. There is a wide range of applications including- communication, news gathering, banking, business, healthcare provision, transport systems, as well as innovative interactive systems for entertainment and learning. ICT has given easy access to communication and has enabled people in this globalized world to stay better connected to each other.
Bangladesh is a developing nation with a vast population; amongst them 3.4 million children suffer from disability. A major portion of them reside in the rural areas and therefore, are too poor to address their special needs. They are considered a liability to their families and to society and this perpetuates multiple forms of violence against them. The government thus far, has failed to recognize and take action on this issue. Moreover, given the social stigmas attached to peoples with disabilities, this further isolates them from participation in both public and private lives. Persons with disability are regarded as a source of embarrassment for their families and thus are often psychologically and physically abused.
Although disabled persons have been deprived on many levels, and given their limited resources, they have been successful in using technology innovatively towards social progress. Information technology has become an important part of envisioning and realizing change to daily life for individuals, as well as the architecture and systems of society. Children learn quickly and therefore, when these children are introduced to skills at an early age, they acquire sufficient skills by the time they are adolescents to be self sufficient. In order to break down the traditional ideologies of abuse and neglect of peoples with disabilities, it is vital that children with disabilities are addressed as a priority.
However, access to education for children with disabilities is much lower than the need. An un-equal educational system, a rigid and unfriendly school curriculum, lack of awareness of parents, compounded with the inadequate knowledge of teachers often are major obstacles towards promoting education for children with disabilities. The government has been promoting inclusive education for children with mild disabilities. This may create a space for the enrolment of more children with disabilities in the mainstream educational institutions. Another positive step is the program of providing stipend to students with disabilities.
Of the 40,000 NGOs working in Bangladesh, only around four hundred are working for persons with disabilities. In addition to the Government and Non-Government organizations, there are other not-for-profit organizations such as the Institute of Hazrat Mohammad SAW working in the field of disability education. The Institute of Hazrat Mohammad SAW provides computer, Spoken English and Call Center Operations training for visually impaired persons. Persons with disability usually have limited mobility. For visually impaired individuals call centers can be a viable employer.
Needless to say, in a resource-constrained country like Bangladesh, disabled persons are often subject to significant social misconceptions. Being a majority Muslim country, Bangladesh can refer to the teachings of Islam for addressing social misconceptions on disability. Islam attaches utmost importance to the rights of the child. It warns parents and societies against neglecting children, lest this causes feelings of homelessness and loss. Moreover, the first eleven lines of Surah Abasa in the Holy Quran stresses on importance of according respect and dignity to disabled persons and the fact that in Islam all men are equal, and given an opportunity a disabled person may even show higher intellect than a person without any disability. Being a moderate Muslim country, Bangladesh may hold awareness session on these teachings and thereby enable disabled persons to lead independent, dignified lives free from misconceptions and social stigma.
Disability is a social problem and its call for social responsibility to address the problem. The disability among the children in a country like Bangladesh generally causes economic burden for a poor family and therefore, they require special support. The global experiences indicate that when educated, disabled children can cope themselves within the society and contribute towards their own well-being as well as contributing to the family and the society at large. It remains a fact that the program for educating the children with different forms of disability requires organized efforts, state interventions and involvement of social and non-governmental organizations. As over 10% of people suffer from some form of disability, it is important to empower this section of society with education and employable skills. Only then can a disabled person seek gainful employment and cease to be a burden on his family. This in turn will enable him to lead life with greater independence and dignity and positively contribute to the economy.