People with disabilities: Inclusion and empowerment
There is no doubt that many persons with disabilities have talents and capabilities. But capacities of many persons with disabilities in the developing countries have been too frequently underestimated. Consequently, they tend not to be included in different activities of society on an equal basis with others
Every year on the 3rd of December, the International Day for the People with Disabilities is observed with various programs and activities regarding the rights and issues of people with disabilities. Nepal is also celebrating the day with various awareness programs relating to the problems and issues of people with disabilities. The slogan of the disability day for this year is “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment of all abilities”.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) recognizes in its preamble that “disability is an evolving concept that results from the interaction between person with impairments and attitudinal as well as environmental barriers that hinder their full and active participation in society on an equal basis with others. Likewise, the World Report on Disability cites and stresses that disability is the umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions referring to the negative aspects of the interaction between an individual (with a health condition) and that individual’s contextual factors (environmental and personal factors). The definition of disability, thus, does not concentrate only on the medical perception but also on other relevant aspects including social, environmental as well as psychological.
According to the World Report on Disability (WHO and the World Bank, 2011) about 15 per cent of the world’s population live with one or the other form of disability. In Nepal’s context, nearly 2 per cent of the total population, i.e. more than five hundred thousand people have disability. So it would not be inappropriate to say that such a large portion of population should and must be mainstreamed into the society for the entire development of the nation.
Disability, indeed, is a development as well as human rights issue. But the realization of their human rights is a huge challenge since they are not even recognized as part of the society. Persons with disabilities in the developing countries tend to be invisible, disadvantaged and forgotten in the context of development. For many persons with disabilities in the conservative societies like ours, their daily life is restricted to one room, to their home or the proximity thereof. Even in some customs and culture like ours, disability is considered as a result of sin committed on one’s previous life or by an ancestor. Consequently, it is extremely difficult for a person with disability to get a job or acquire an education. Participation in the societies is very difficult or impossible for them due to physical as well as information and communication related barriers. The stigma based on disability is severe in many parts particularly in rural areas of Nepal.
Under such circumstances, disability and development through the concepts of participation, empowerment and mainstreaming them into the society is essential. Because when a person gets to be empowered and/or mainstreamed, he/she has more opportunities to participate and become an active member to the society. The more the disability issues are mainstreamed into society, the more the society enables persons with disabilities to participate. Once empowered, a person has the capacity to advocate for his/her rights. As a result, their well being also tends to increase particularly in the field of education, employment and recreation.
It may be recalled here that the global historical event for the persons with disabilities is the adoption of United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The UNCRPD and its optional Protocols were adopted in December 2006 at the UN Headquarters and came into force on may 3rd 2008. The Convention was signed by Nepal on 13 December 2009. Till August 2014, altogether 147 states in the world have ratified the Convention. The Convention clearly re-iterates that persons with disabilities are active members of their society on an equal basis with others. It also highlights full and active participation of persons with disabilities in the development issues.
Needless to say that a person’s capacity is strengthened when he or she is given adequate opportunities to participate in the society. Indeed, all persons with disabilities have the right to be equal citizens and active participants in the society. But the irony is that many persons with disabilities in the developing countries live in an extremely unequal and disabling environment with limited personal capacity. And Nepal in this regard, is no exception. Disability is still considered something to be ashamed of in many cultures like ours. It is common for persons with disabilities to be kept hidden away and excluded from mainstreaming into the society.
There is no doubt that many persons with disabilities have talents and capabilities. But capacities of many persons with disabilities in the developing countries have been too frequently underestimated. Consequently, they tend not to be included in different activities of society on an equal basis with others.
Taking all these into consideration, empowering and mainstreaming the people with disabilities should and must be a part and parcel of development.
The author is president of Guardians Association of Blind-Nepal.