Let them inIt is crucial to ensure that disabled people benefit from the policies made for them
Words such as ‘inclusion’ and ‘disability mainstreaming’ have become buzzwords in the development sector. However, several NGOs and government offices express their lack of knowledge about this sector. When it comes to accessing government services, persons with disabilities continue to face multiple challenges in Nepal. There is not even a single institution that can be considered entirely inclusive, ie, with essential provisions such as ramps, elevators, hydraulic lifts and braille signage to assist disabled persons. In addition, the lack of authentic data on disability has severely affected the services and provisions made for them.
Making matters worse is the indifference towards the problems faced by persons with disabilities in Nepal. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics Nepal, nearly two percent of the population of the country suffers from some type of disability. Yet, not even one-fifth of the disbaled have received disability identity cards. Most of our public places and for this matter, even private places, that are frequently visited by disabled persons remain inaccessible to them. Though the promulgation of the constitution has been hailed by the disabled community and the formulation of disabled-friendly policies have generated hope, recent political upheavals have adversely affected the effective execution of these policies to actually benefit persons with disabilities.
Early in December, the world celebrated the International Day of Disabled Persons with the slogan ‘Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities’. This theme is extremely relevant in Nepal’s context as it provides a framework to address the physical, attitudinal and communication barriers faced by the disabled persons.
The theme essentially provides three pertinent sub-themes. First and foremost, it states that cities need to be made inclusive and accessible for all—all persons, regardless of their physical abilities should be able to get around. In this regard, even our Capital, remains inaccessible topeople with disabilities.
The second sub-theme discusses improving disability data and statistics. In several developing countries, including Nepal, there is a huge absense of data required for effective execution of policies and programmes aimed at supporting disabled persons. The Ministry of Women Children and Social Welfare is well aware of this problem. Therefore, it has allocated some fund to establish a GIS data management system. However, unless works begins, it is difficult to speak about its effectivness.
The third and final sub-theme focuses on the inclusion of persons with invisible disabilities in society and development. It is well-known that there are different sorts of disability and yet, people including policymakers, government officials, civil societies and even disabled peoples organisations remain largely unaware about them, particularly with regards to the skills and capacities of the disabled persons to positively contribute in the country’s development.
The government of Nepal and its development partners should genuinely and strongly believe that all persons, regardless of their disability type and circumstances, should be able to access basic facilities service. For that, disabled-friendly infrastructure should be a top priority. At least the ministries, key government offices, schools, hospitals and health posts and historic places within the municipalities should be made disabled-friendly.
Even so, making buildings accessible to the disabled alone will not ensure inclusion. Schools buildings should also be made accessible and they should promote inclusive education. Free and comprehensive healthcare (rehab) facilities and access to employment would also ensure dignified living for persons with disabilities. And the Ministry of Women Children and Social Welfare cannot alone safeguard these provisions. Therefore, it is vital to establish inter-ministerial and promote coordination among concerned stakeholders to identify common targets and ensure their implementation.
Keeping in mind of the inadequacy of reliable data on the disability sector, the initiative taken by the Social Welfare Ministry should be well supported. Different disability focused organisations and government departments should immediately sit together and agree on the necessary proceedings by setting a timeline to accomplish set goals and regularly update collected data on the website for public access.
Finally, to ensure the inclusion of people with invisible disabilities in different communities of Nepal, all local-level government offices should be made accessible and disabled-friendly. There should be a proper monitoring mechanism with specific indicators for the inclusion of persons with disabilities. It is high time we ensured that persons with disability feel included and empowered not only by formulating new policies but by implementing them.
Neupane is livelihood advisor at Handicap International Nepal.Views expressed in this article are personal