Count them inWhen the 2011 census was being conducted, one of the major issues faced by persons with disabilities was the lack of sensitivity from the enumerators. Shudarson Subedi,
When the 2011 census was being conducted, one of the major issues faced by persons with disabilities was the lack of sensitivity from the enumerators. Shudarson Subedi, the president of the National Federation of disabled People (NFDN)—the national umbrella organisation for persons with disabilities—recalled the insensitive approach adopted by most enumerators; from questions that were constructed in ways that minimised people with disabilities to completely disregarding them in the interview process—the instances were abound.
According to the 2011 census, there are 513,321 people with disabilities in the country. But many disability rights activists believe that the numbers grossly underrepresented. Deeply concerned, the NFDN decided to set the theme ‘#Countmeincludeme’ for this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, held on Dec. 3. Only when everyone is properly counted and subsequently included, can there be an accurate projection of the number of people living with disability in the country. And only then can the authorities concerned make tailored and comprehensive provisions for them—in the constitution and the legislation supporting it.
The Disabled Protection and Welfare Act 1982 was enacted 35 years ago. But it was replaced last year by the Disability Rights Bill, which adopted a human-rights based approach as opposed to a medical approach to legislation. It also corrected insensitive language that was riddled in its predecessor. Marking a departure from the previous act, the new bill was formulated in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the disability-related provisions outlined in the Constitution of Nepal 2015. By amending the classifications of different forms of disabilities, the new act has included provisions on equal access to education, health, employment, public physical infrastructure, transportation and information.
If implemented properly, the new legislation offers great opportunity to ensure inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in work and social life—in consonance with this year’s theme. While several positive steps forward have been made to make Kathmandu more accessible, many other provisions have not been met and legislation has barely moved from paper.
According to Subedi, the the biggest failure to implement many of the policies lies in the fact that for him, and for many of his colleagues, the government hasn’t taken ownership of the mission to support persons with disabilities. Most of the schools and rehabilitation centres are run by non-government organisations (NGOs). Granted, the support for people who are differently abled started with the non-government sector. But Subedi believes that the government has been complacent in its effort and is solely reliant on other institutions to carry out the ground-level work.
While it is not to say that NGOs involvement in the sector is wrong, they can only go so far. Eventually, the government must step in if they are serious about providing sustained support for upliftment and inclusion, too. Unless the government actively takes ownership of the service mechanism, mere legislation is meaningless. What’s more, the government’s indifference is even reflected in the budget where no amount is allocated for the people with disability and their empowerment.
Apart from governing, the role of the government is also to break down barriers and help people participate in communities. Only when every section of the society feels that their fundamental rights are met can they contribute to make a better society and fulfil their personal potential. As the theme Nepal chose for this years International Day of Person’s with Disability rightly highlights, the government must take lessons from its previous shortcomings and ensure that differently-abled people are accurately counted in its next census along with leading the movement to ensure their inclusion and empowerment in public life.