Ensuring rights and inclusion of the persons with disabilities is a formidable challenge towards achieving sustainable development. Tackling the challenge summons essential change in the pervasive negative social attitude and collaborative efforts from all including the government and non-governmental entities. Speakers expressed these views at a webinar organised by BRAC today on Tuesday.
The event was organised on the occasion of International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) to be observed on 3 December. Mahfuza Akhtar, secretary, Ministry of Social Welfare, attended the webinar as chief guest with Sheikh Rafiqul Islam, director general, Department of Social Services, attending as special guest. Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC, Shafiqul Islam, country director, ADD International, Valerie Taylor, founder, CRP, Dr Morseda Chowdhury, and Maria Huq, directors, BRAC, spoke as panel speakers at the webinar. Rafe Sadnan Adel, head, Media and External Relations, BRAC, moderated the discussion.
The organisers said one-tenth of the country’s total population are persons with different kind of physical and mental disabilities. The overwhelming majority of these people are absent from the mainstream development scenario of the country, mainly owing to different inclusion related issues. Formulation and effective execution of disability-friendly policies are essential to promote inclusion of persons with disabilities in the mainstream development activities and build a sustainable future for them. All have to come together to make it possible.
Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC, said, “Ideas such as persons with disabilities are people with very limited capacities, or they should not be given higher responsibilities, are very common in our society. We must break these ideas through exemplary development initiatives for persons with disabilities.” There is a lot of scope to work in this area, ensuring the equal rights of the persons with disabilities as the disadvantaged group of our society, he added.
The government is firmly committed to ensure the rights of and opportunities for the persons with disabilities, said Mahfuza Akhtar, secretary, Ministry of Social Welfare. The persons with disabilities need to be motivated about their potentials to become successful and at the same time the society has to change its conventional mindset. Although the government has promulgated laws and rules to safeguard their rights and formed committees in the districts and upazilas, it is, however, not possible for the government to do all that is needed. Collaborative initiatives from the government and the private sectors are essential to bring effective changes, the secretary observed.
Sheikh Rafiqul Islam, director general, Department of Social Services, called on the entrepreneurs, industrialists and private sector employers to provide jobs to the persons with disabilities, besides taking initiatives to create opportunities for them as well as undertaking rehabilitation and skills development initiatives.
ADD International country director Shafiqul Islam said, “The laws of Bangladesh safeguard the right of the persons with disabilities to access employment and safeguard them against discriminatory practices. The government is legally and politically committed to the cause, but it is not possible for the government alone to implement those rights. It needs coordinated and active participation from the persons with disabilities and the organisations that work with them.”
Having highlighted the exemplary successes of persons with disabilities in their jobs, CRP founder Valerie Taylor viewed that changes are happening now. “But the changes need to be speedier and it would be great if we all can be stakeholders to bring the change.”
BRAC Human Resource Division director Maria Huq mentioned a range of measures undertaken by BRAC to establish a disability-friendly workplace, and said the organisation has set a target to appoint 900 persons with disabilities as its staff by 2025.
BRAC Health, Nutrition and Population Programme director Dr Morseda Chowdhury observed that initiatives to give soft skills training to persons with disabilities are still few in Bangladesh. Having stressed that measures should be taken for both soft and hard skills training for them, she called on all to take collaborative efforts to ensure equal opportunities for and dignity of the persons with disabilities at the workplace.