Mindset needs to changePersons with disabilities in Nepal are doubly marginalised, first by poverty and second by social and economic exclusion.
Persons with disabilities in Nepal are doubly marginalised, first by poverty and second by social and economic exclusion. It is not uncommon for disability to be described as punishment for a past wrongdoing by the parents or the handicapped person. In some remote parts of Nepal, people with disabilities are not allowed to attend holy events like wedding ceremonies and other formal community occasions. This is because of a superstition that the presence of persons with disabilities brings bad luck. Furthermore, the understanding of disability as a human rights issue is still a long way off. This is reflected by the nationwide lack of awareness of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), its principles and even its existence. Disabled people are often subjected to inhuman treatment and are largely perceived as requiring charity as opposed to rights.
Disability and policy
In Nepal, the need for community support and services is extensive. Research has shown that most families of persons with disabilities never plan for the future of their disabled sons and daughters. And even in adult life, the notion of independence for persons with disabilities is more or less abstract. However, there are significant shifts taking place. For example, there is now a right to free primary education which is currently being implemented in favour of children with disabilities. But there is still need to develop legal and social support systems to enable greater participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities in the community. Hence, continuous advocacy is needed for further development of these systems. The disability rights issue has a close connection with the government’s development policies and programmes.
While Nepal is a signatory to several international human rights instruments including the CRPD, the national implementation process is very slow. Additionally, there is limited expertise and physical presence of persons with disabilities and their advocates at the policymaking level. As a result, it is very difficult to effectively engage policymakers in addressing the exclusion of persons with disabilities. Further, policymakers are not ready to address disability issues because most of them still embrace stereotypes, and it is challenging to change such a mindset. The ratification of the CRPD by the government in 2010 did not bring any significant practical change in the daily life of persons with disabilities. Before signing and ratifying the agreement, Nepal did not review its laws and policies from the perspective of the obligations enshrined in it. Therefore, the acts, laws, policies, environment and attitude of policymakers need to be thoroughly revamped in line with the CRPD.
The hard life
Education is the basic tool to make people more aware besides empowering them. Therefore, rights sensitive inclusive education for persons with disabilities can bring significant changes in their lives. Unfortunately in Nepal, people have a poor idea of the meaning of inclusive education, integrated education and special needs education and the differences between them. Education policymakers are not fully aware of the ideology backing an inclusive education system. The result is that the government is failing to ensure an inclusive education system that is available, accessible, appropriate and of good quality for children with all types of disabilities. As a consequence, illiteracy is high among persons with disabilities.
Life is more difficult for disabled persons in remote mountainous areas where they face extreme challenges to access public services, goods and transport. Similarly, social stigma against girls and women during their period discourages them from attending school during those times. The right to education for all persons including those with disabilities is rooted in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Likewise, the CRPD obliges state parties to guarantee an ‘inclusive education system at all levels’. Article 24 of this agreement requires state parties to ensure that children with disabilities ‘are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability’. It also states that such education should be provided in an inclusive and free environment, and on an equal basis with others in the community. The convention goes further and mandates state parties to provide reasonable accommodation within the general education system on an individualised basis to persons with disabilities in order to facilitate their education.
Seeing the light
Despite the government’s commitment to create inclusive and children-friendly schools, it has not been able to make the school environment accessible to children with disabilities. Reasonable accommodation involves making structural modifications to schools like building ramps and other assistive devices besides modifying the curriculum and evaluation methods. The practical barriers to inclusive education are mainly associated with limited financial resources, poor understanding of disability and low prioritisation of inclusive education. They include: lack of information about the extension of the right to education to include persons with disabilities and inadequate knowledge about existing possibilities and options available; inaccessible school facilities with poor reasonable accommodation; the existence of segregated and inferior quality of education; lack of adequately trained teachers; inflexible curriculum and evaluation systems; ineffective social support; high school fees; and stigma against children with disabilities and their families.
A lot remains to be done for the effective implementation of Article 24 of the CRPD in the context of Nepal. Mainstreaming disability should be a priority in all the spheres of public life. There are numerous obstacles to inclusive education for children with disabilities. To remove these obstacles, we need to overcome a ‘silos’ or narrow approach and create synergies among stakeholders including the government, individual citizens, communities and organisations. As the saying goes, it is better to light a lamp than to curse the darkness. Focus should be directed towards positive action and not fears.
Joshi is a disability advocate There are numerous obstacles to inclusive education for children with disabilities