Jahanara Akhter's story (published in this paper yesterday) is nothing short of exhilarating. A young girl born in an impoverished family in Ghatail upazila and with physical disability has managed to secure GPA 5 in her Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exams and is determined to continue with her studies. The odds against her were many. She and all of her family members, except her mother, have speech and hearing impairment. Jahanara's mother, a domestic help, could see the promising potential in her daughter since she was young and thus, devoted all her efforts in educating her. But now she worries how her daughter will continue her education after her SSC as it would mean relocating in order to attend college. She also worries about who would constantly assist Jahanara, as it is essential, especially during her studies. For individuals with disabilities, their dreams are often cut short because there are little or no provisions for them to get the assistance they need to pursue them.
Say Jahanara manages to finish her education which would be a formidable feat given the circumstances, what about getting a job? How hard would that be for a person with disability? Last year during this time of the year, visually impaired jobseekers went on hunger strike demanding special recruitment at government, autonomous, semi-autonomous offices, as well as an unemployment allowance, until they secure jobs after graduation. Likewise, this year too, they have pushed forward similar demands as they are facing hardships like never before in the face of the ongoing pandemic which has put our economy to a near halt. A council of job-seeking visually-impaired graduates recently wrote an open letter to the prime minister, stating their struggles to survive the jobless market. The letter further cited that it has been nine months since the PM gave certain directives to address their problems but the designated government agencies did not make any progress till now.
While it is assuring to learn from our report that the Ghatail Upazila Secondary Education Officer will assist Jahanara in her upcoming endeavours, including arranging a free scholarship to fulfill her dreams, the bigger question remains what will happen to her and other graduates with disability when comes to getting a job? Without any support in the current situation especially, these students are likely to fall into poverty and will lose all hope of overcoming the odds and be employed. The government's rescue packages and budget allocations must include them. To establish an inclusive society, the government as well as other organisations must come forward to employ people who are physically challenged. As the pandemic continues, we hope the government will not hesitate in providing the necessary support, especially to the underprivileged, physically challenged individuals who are among the most vulnerable groups under the current circumstances. With support and compassion, these individuals can pursue their academic and career dreams and be productive citizens of the country.