Persons with disabilities still face social stigma

The two-day National Conference on ‘Higher Education Teaching-Learning in Bhutan: Innovative, Adaptations, Opportunities, and Challenges” held  on 4 & 5 July  in Royal Thimphu College organised jointly organised by Royal Thimphu College, Paro College of Education and Samtse  College of Education in  partnership with the Department of Adult and Higher Education under the Ministry of Education



Despite having various non-governmental organizations (NGO) that are instrumental in supporting the education of youth with disabilities, recent research show that people with disabilities still face social stigma.

Further, cultural and religious gogmas, lack of resources, caregiver and teacher preparedness, and a lack of awareness amongst the public are stated as some of the bottlenecks.

The research paper on ‘Understanding, Developing, and Supporting Meaningful Work for Youth with Disabilities in Bhutan: Networks, Communities, and Transition’, was presented by Sonam Ura, a Grant Coordinator and Research Project Co-ordinator at Royal Thimphu College (RTC).

The report was tabled during the two-day National Conference on ‘Higher Education Teaching-Learning in Bhutan: Innovative, Adaptations, Opportunities, and Challenges on 5 July in RTC.

Sonam Ura said that youth with disabilities are often challenged with accessibility and opportunities to higher education. Further, he said access to education for persons with disabilities require additional needs.

These needs are complex issues that go along several aspects, including the severity of disability, geography, availability and access to college programs, social networks and social norms, among others.

He said, “For Bhutan, we are still constrained by resources including teaching-learning materials and new approaches.”

The research revealed that the economic and social participation of persons with disabilities is also an issue in the country.

He also presented that in the latest Population and Housing Census of Bhutan, 2020, 2.1 percent of the population are categorized as disabled.

The research found that there could be up to 20 percent disability prevalence in Bhutanese youth. “If this is true, there would be a significant number of Bhutanese with some form of disabilities.”

It also found that most persons with disabilities in rural settings are ‘isolated and inactive’. This indicates that most persons with disabilities do not participate in economic and social activities and that they are dependent on their families and friends.

Bhutan has an overall unemployment rate of five percent, with 22.6 percent of that figure falling under the category of youth age group between 15–24 years, according to the National Statistics Bureau, 2020.

However, there is a lack of unemployment data for persons with disabilities, according to the research paper.

While doing the research, Sonam Ura said that even the report on the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan does not mention anything about the unemployment rate of persons with disabilities.

“This suggests that persons with disabilities are a marginalized group without adequate attention to their health and well-being,” he opined.

However, he said that some UN agencies such as UNICEF and NGOs have promoted the health and well-being of persons with disabilities.

For instance, the Draktsho and Wangsel Institutes for the Deaf and Muenselling Institute for the visually impaired have been providing some vocational skills to help persons with disabilities find paid jobs.

With such support systems in place, he said that the economic and social participation of persons with disabilities is likely to improve in the near future.

The research found out that older persons with disabilities are more likely to have limited access to paid jobs and can work limited number of hours for pay. Further, youth with disabilities who took part in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) were much more likely to have a paid job and work a greater number of hours.

The research revealed that if meaningful activities were available, youth with disabilities did engage in social and community participation.

Further, youth with disabilities who felt they were supported by their family members to seek or have a job were significantly more likely to be employed and persons with disabilities living in urban or semi-urban areas had more hours of paid employment than those living in rural and semi-rural regions.

The research recommended that since TVET is a significant factor in gaining paid employment and working a greater number of hours, the government must invest in TVET for all youth and adults, and make TVET inclusive for all abilities.

Although TVET was found to be significant for employment outcomes overall, just the number of years in formal education completed had a negative effect on the level of paid employment.

It suggested that the employment skills gained in formal education were either absent or misaligned for youth with disabilities, and in fact, there was an economic cost to being in school that was not compensated by future earnings. Therefore, the research recommended aligning formal education with employment and life skills and increasing education’s socio-economic integration.

Since family support was a significant predictor of employment and meaningful participation in the country, the research recommended that it is important to support families in supporting their youth with disabilities, and to encourage high expectations for youth with disabilities; also there is a disparity in employment outcomes between urban and rural areas in the country, while rural Bhutan may have more informal and non-wage socio-economic participation overall, therefore, it is important to invest in rural areas and provide appropriate means for socio-economic opportunities.