Saturday, December 05, 2015

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been commemorated since 1992 to promote awareness and mobilize support for the critical issues relating to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society and development. The 3rd day of December each year aims to promote action to raise awareness about disability issues and draw attention to the rights of an inclusive and accessible society for persons with disabilities.
As per the World Health Organization; Disability is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. Impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Thus disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.

Disability is not a phenomenon but is a phase. Everyone at one point or the other passes through such phases. The elderly, ill, pregnant, obese, children, persons with fracture or with luggage could all be described as passing through a phase of disability. Even during such phases each one has the right to live in dignity. Accessibility, therefore, cannot be an aspect of sympathy but is very much the right of every individual. Though unintended, most of our buildings today remain inaccessible to many. This is largely due to the lack of conscious efforts, concerns for the disabled and lack of basic information on what constitutes an accessible design. A universal design, not remaining synonymous only with the provision of ramps, involves many more aspects to consider. This neither implies an additional demand nor involves an extra cost, if integrated right from the conception of the design.
This effort aims to bring about awareness of the issues faced by the physically challenged people when using public buildings and spaces. It also incorporates concerns of the elderly, children and of people facing temporary mobility problems. We, as committed and concerned professionals, should take up this responsibility of addressing these issues and demonstrate through our work the benefits of a barrier-free environment. Access to public areas is not only a matter of dignity but also the fundamental right of every person in our country.
Government has been working towards invoking civil society participation to facilitate social inclusion and democratic governance. The aim is to empower the vulnerable sections of our society to enable them to effectively participate in mainstream development and decision-making processes. This includes people with disabilities and issues related to disability. While working on issues of disability in the past 3 years, we realized that, besides social and attitudinal barriers, physical obstacles in the environment pose a major hurdle in inclusion and, together, these barriers result in nonparticipation and exclusion.

There are more than a billion people in the world today who experience disability. People with disabilities have generally poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is largely due to the lack of services available to them and the many obstacles they face in their everyday lives. According to WHO World Bank Report 2011 on disability, less than 15% of disabled persons could obtain aids and appliances. There are more than 20 million people in need of orthopaedic appliances and to this figure about million new disabled people are added every year. Most of the world’s disabled people live in the developing countries. People with physical disabilities in Bhutan live in circumstances of poverty, isolation and social stigma. Their experiences have been exacerbated by the lack of services & facilities and vehement attitudinal barriers in all walks of their life. Disability is significant not only for the disabled person but also for the family and neighbours. The estimated 1 billion people living with disabilities worldwide face many barriers to inclusion in may key aspects of society. As a result, persons with disabilities do not enjoy access to society on an equal basis with others, which includes areas of transportation, employment, and education as well as social and political participation. A very low percentage of Person with disabilities in Bhutan have been receiving marginal amount of services in hospitals.
Bhutan is one of the nation in the world with a long-standing commitment of becoming an inclusive society where People with Disabilities, are able to fully participate in the social, cultural, recreational, economic and political life of the nation. Inclusion is the primary social objective. All citizens should have the opportunity and right to participate without discrimination, attitudinal & environmental or service barriers in all walks of life.
Recognizing the rights and responsibilities, the Government of Bhutan will ensure that every Person with Disabilities in Bhutan achieve full emancipation and self esteem by equalization of opportunities through creation of enabling environment, so that the society is benefited from their untapped talent and contribution. The Government will endeavor to promote community participation in order to generate adequate community response towards the causes of disability. The Government will ensure the promotion of innovative and adaptive technology in order to create and facilitate access to social and economic rehabilitation for Persons with Disabilities.

With the theme “Inclusion matters; access and empowerment for people of all abilities” there is no better time than this to create barrier free environment for person with disabilities and empower them with full rights and optimal social status. Persons with disabilities must be given role in the society and to participate on an equal basis with others. It is important to focus on the ability and not on the disability of an individual.
The sub-themes for IDPD 2015 include:
1.      Making cities inclusive and accessible for all:
For many city-dwellers, today's modern cities and towns may be convenient and fascinating places for working and living, offering a great variety of opportunities and experiences. But for disabled persons, such built environments are full of uncertainties, anxieties and dangers. Disabled persons encounter many obstacles that prevent them from moving about freely and safely. For wheelchair users, steps and stairways are obstacles. Blind people are endangered by the absence of directional and safety features that they can hear and touch.
The way in which the environment is developed and organized contributes to a large extent, to the level of independence and equality that people with disability can enjoy.
In society there are a number of barriers, which prevent disabled people from enjoying equal opportunities with non-disabled people. For example: structural barriers in the built environment; inaccessible service points; inaccessible entrances; poor town planning; and poor interior design etc. It must be emphasized that barriers also include communication barriers i.e. oral language is a barrier for sign & touch tell language users.
Key access concerns in Bhutan are:
1.  Most public as well as private buildings are inaccessible for PwDs (people with disabilities)
2.  Planning professionals need to recognize and act upon the specific details, which are needed in providing a barrier free environment.
3.  Lack of specialists/expertise in the field of barrier free access
4.  Costs are often cited as the reason for the failure to provide a barrier free environment. However, when accessibility is incorporated in the original design, the additional cost does not generally exceed 0.2% of the overall cost of development.
5.  All relevant staff in the central departments and in the local government should attend and complete a course on barrier free access to provide the exposure towards the needs of PwDs. Professionals involved in the construction industry should complete the course as well.

2.      Improving disability data and statistics:
The absence of a common language of disability, including a common understanding of the multidimensional concept of disability, is the principal cause of the lack of agreement on disability data around the globe. Lack of proper data and statistics on disability had hindered the process of priorities for disable persons in the country and are left less concerned though government, NGOs and other organizations had voiced and conducted the social analysis of disability and data collections. Royal government of Bhutan should start a pilot disability survey and encourage a better understanding of people affected by disability, together with helping to make people more aware of the rights, dignity and welfare of disabled persons.  

3.      Including persons with invisible disabilities in society and development:
The government should respect the right to participate in public life and reduce inequalities in the society. Often the societal image of persons with disabilities is impacted by attitudes based on stigma and discrimination, as well as archaic ideas about disability and persons with disabilities that are often the greatest barrier to their full and equal participation in society and development on an equal basis with others.
In the social model, the focus is to the society; undue restrictions on behavior of persons with impairment are seen to be imposed by: a) dominant social, political, and economics ideologies; b) cultural and religious perceptions regarding persons with disabilities; c) paternalism in social welfare systems; d) discriminations by society; e) the inaccessibility of the environment and information; and f) the lack of appropriate institutional and social arrangements. Thus in this model, disability does not lie in individuals, but in the interactions between individuals and society. In the social model, persons with disabilities are right holders, and are entitled to advocate for the removal of institutional, physical, informational and attitudinal barriers in society.
It is important to note that disability is part of the human condition, and that all of us either are or will become disabled to one degree or another during the course of our lives.
“The only disability in the world is BAD ATTITUDE.”

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