ALOK RAJOURIA, PHD
The recently published World Report on Disability finally offers disability a meaningful and informative deliberation at a global level. A product of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank (IBRD), the report is forwarded by Professor Stephen W Hawking, a well-known wheel-chair bound theoretical physicist and cosmologist who has proved to be a role model, showing the world that physical disabilities, however severe, cannot keep a determined individual from making valuable contribution to society and living a full and productive life.
Defining disability as a human condition, the report notes that more than one billion people in the world live with some form of disability. The WHO estimate that 10 percent of the population being affected by disabilities at any given time, which had become more or less the standard, has now been raised to 15 percent. The report underlines the reality that the number of people with disabilities is increasing as more people survive to old age, given the obvious high correlation between aging and disability. Add to that other causes of disabilities such as road accidents, natural disasters, armed conflicts, substance abuse, malnutrition, and arthritis, and the picture of high prevalence of disability emerges.
It is for us to note that as much as 80 percent of the population with disabilities lives in the developing countries. Disability disproportionately affects the poor and vulnerable populations. While this is true among countries, this is also true within countries, with frequency of disabilities higher among the low-income population. Studies show that persons with disabilities in developing countries are at a disadvantage in educational attainment and in the labor market due to economic, social, cultural or structural factors.
The comprehensive report incorporates some very basic ideas on disabilities, while it also presents theories and latest rehabilitation techniques. It seeks to present a universally applicable definition of disability and calls for internationally comparable, standardized data. Currently, data collection approaches and methods are different among countries, and the report recommends that the design should be based on international standards like the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), which can be a universal framework for disability data collection.
The report also emphasizes the major shift in understanding of disability and how countries and people respond to it as a result of the rapid global honoring of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD is described as a “landmark international treaty” that obligates state parties to take disability as a human rights and development priority. Disability is a human rights issue, the report states, because persons with disabilities are subjected to inequality and discrimination; they often experience violation of dignity and are denied autonomy and choices. Disability is a development issue because of its bi-directional link to poverty.
The report makes some valuable recommendations to policy makers, leaders and other stakeholders. First, the it reiterates the urgent need to mainstream disability in policies, systems and services. Mainstreaming means that all barriers to participation are removed and persons with disabilities are able to participate equally with others in any activity and service intended for the general public, like education, health, employment, and social series. It is a challenging proposition for a developing country like Nepal with limited resources, but the process of mainstreaming disability must begin if we envision our society to be one day fully inclusive and persons with disabilities are able to live a life of equality and dignity. It is, however, stated in the report that in special cases where mainstreaming may not be adequate, the state must invest in special programs and services.
Another recommendation applicable for Nepal is to develop and adopt a national disability strategy action plan that depicts a long term vision of improving the well-being of persons with disabilities. In this regard, Nepal had formulated the National Policy and Plan of Action on Disability, 2006. However, its implementation remains weak and it needs to be updated following the signing and ratification of the CRPD.
It is imperative for the state to ensure active participation of persons with disabilities in decision making, formulating laws, policies, and planning services. In addition, to build an inclusive society the report calls for the need to increase public awareness and understanding about disability.
Against the backdrop of the World Report on Disability, the Nepalese government should comply with all article of the CRPD, mainstream disability, improve data collection of disability, preferably meeting international standards and effectively implement a national disability strategy along with an action plan. Meanwhile, non-governmental actors must continue to increase awareness about the importance of disability and improve the responses provided, promote participation and inclusion, and increase respect and dignity of persons with disabilities.