One thing that came out clearly in roundtables organised by The Daily Star and several NGOs dealing with the disabled in Bangladesh, over the last fortnight, is the huge potential that the so-called handicapped people have in contributing towards national development. The caveat is that the government, and indeed the society, has not completely internalised the situation to allow the physically challenged to exploit that potential. We are still waiting for the proposed disability act to see the light of the day.
There is also need for awareness on several counts as regards disabled. There are almost 15 percent of our population that suffer some form of affliction which neither the state nor the society can afford to overlook. And the need to look afresh at their needs requires change of mindset, a change that must first occur from individual homes and families; a change we hope that would make this country more disabled friendly.
We often also overlook the fact that there is an economic cost in bypassing the physically handicapped as was made clear in a seminar on Sunday entitled, â€œImproving Livelihood of People with Disabilitiesâ€ The country could have added 18 percent to its GDP had it been able build up the capacity of people with disabilities to contribute to the economy.
That being the case, the government must proceed in a planned way for appropriate education and training of these persons. And although the government has a strategy paper to address the issue it appears that there are far too many objectives to attain that might make achievement of goals, long and short term, rather difficult.
The first thing the government should do is to collect the accurate statistics of the actual number of disabled persons and the type of disabilities they suffer from. Only then can the education and training programmes, among other things, can be formulated. And there remains huge opportunity for their employment given the proper training.