The Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and stakeholders working for the People With Disabilities (PWDs) are ushering towards promoting inclusive societies. This was discussed during the two-day National Conference on Disability on 1-2 December held at Thimphu.
The conference theme “Promoting Social Inclusion through Implementation of National Disability Policy,” was to promote inclusive services and disability rights, strengthening collaboration with policy makers and stakeholders, and learning and sharing experience among the relevant agencies.
The dedicated organisations were sharing the concern that though the society is aware of disability and improved support, accepting as part of family and community, however, there are still many who are neglected, abused and discriminated where their well-being is a question always.
Bhutan has 2.1 percent of registered disabilities persons as per the Population Housing and Census of Bhutan, 2017.
The stakeholders working in the field of disability are exploring to promote more inclusive societies and employment opportunities for the people with disabilities requires improved access to basic education, vocational training relevant to labour market needs and jobs suited to their skills, interest and abilities, with adaptations as needed.
The stakeholders also wanted to dismantle barriers-making the physical environment more accessible, providing information in a variety of formats, and challenging attitudes and mistaken assumptions about the persons with disabilities. “Women and men with disabilities can and want to be productive members of society,” the stakeholders support the PWDs.
The deputy chief programme officer from the Ministry of Education, Pema Chhogyel said that there are need of policy, strong leading agency and resources to make society that is more inclusive. He said that beside the need of dedicated people, social infrastructure and social economy security, ‘’there should be positive mindset and positive attitude.”
While the implementation of National Disability Policy still in the process, the deputy chief programme officer said that, there is need of realistic action plan.
The chief of research and evaluation division of the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), Phuntsho Wangyel said to make the policy inclusive, “progressively remove the barriers faced by the PWDs.”
The physical barriers such as inaccessible infrastructure, transportation, low level of engagement or participation in social level should be removed while in information, there are inaccessible formats and lack of awareness according to the chief.
He also pointed out that there should be attitudinal change towards disabled persons. “There are stigma and discrimination towards PWDs and women with disabilities are vulnerable to sexual abuse.”
Higher relative cost of living and education, lack of employment opportunities and economic burden to the family is the economic barrier.
Therefore, he said that in offices, public places like temples and stadiums should have accessible toilets and ramps for the disabled persons.
The Law School having module to provide justice for the disabled persons, financial institution providing priority to this section of people, the Ministry of Home and Culture Affairs instructing the monasteries to provide priorities during the tshechus, the new city buses accessible to disabilities, featuring ramps, the Ministry of Labour and Human Resource training the disabled persons and training few taxi drivers to cater the disabled persons are some of the steps taken by the related agencies as steps of making more social inclusive.
The former sign language instructor of Wangsel Institute for the Deaf and currently a Post Graduate student in Paro College of Education, Sonam Choden said,“There should be least restrictive environment for PWDs so that they can participate without being stigmatized,” for social inclusion of PWDs.
She shared that especially deaf, if the parents and community could learn sign language they will feel included. “Deafness is a hidden disability and they are minor language minority group. They are mostly excluded because they don’t have the shared language.”
The former sign language instructor said that if sign language is made accessible, “they will not only feel included but also their incidental learning will be boosted.”
The executive director of Draktsho Vocational Training Centre for Special Children and Youth, Deki Zam said, “The National Disability Policy is inclusive covering all areas.” She said that the GNHC is taking lead and though it may take little longer to for actual implementation of the policy, it is progressive and will give brighter future for the PWDs. However, she added, ‘’an action plan should be developed.”
The Para-Athletic Coach for the Bhutan Paralympic Committee, Penjor Gyeltshen said that there should be sports and sport facilities inclusion to make social inclusion for the disabled persons. This means that the toilets should be accessible and sport facilities should be disabled-friendly.
The Communication Officer of Ability Bhutan Society (ABS) Sonam Choetsho said, “In afford towards the promotion of making society more inclusive, hopefully would create an investment from the government, development partners, philanthropist and international foundations to serve the children and help them love independently.”
The National Disability Conference with relevant stakeholders organized by ABS to share the pertaining issues of disability, challenges, and findings. The conference was part of the ongoing project “Social Inclusive Development for People with Disabilities in Bhutan” in five dzongkhags.
ABS in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Germany, and German Leprosy and TB Relief Association, Germany has started the pilot project in December 2018.
The project aims to identify the situation and number of people with disabilities in five dzongkhags and to promote social inclusion at all levels following the WHO CBR matrix – Health, Education, Livelihood, Social, and Empowerment.