Persons with Disabilities: Their needs being constantly ignored
The government has an extreme lack of respect for persons with disabilities, as their needs have been constantly ignored in many spheres of life, said eminent economist Prof Abul Barkat yesterday at a virtual discussion.
This is reflected in two indicators among other factors. Firstly, the government does not bother much about knowing the total number of people with disabilities in the country, he said.
"Official statistics for the same year  report two different figures, 1.41 percent and 9.1 percent [of the population], even though the actual number should be at least 18 million people."
"Secondly, 98 percent of the national budget disrespects people with disabilities," he said, as for this group less than two percent of the social protection budget is allocated for health, education, employment and other assistive services.
He made the comments at the event titled "Sustainable economic empowerment of persons with disabilities through a disability-inclusive poverty graduation programme", jointly organised by The Daily Star, in partnership with Handicap International - Humanity & Inclusion Bangladesh.
Md Mazedul Haque, country operational coordinator of Handicap International, moderated the event. In his presentation, he said 15 percent (approximately one billion) of the world's population lives with a disability, and 80 percent of them live in developing countries, 82 percent of whom earn less than a dollar a day.
In low and middle-income countries, 80-90 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed, he stated.
"Persons with disabilities had a high self-reported unmet need (60-80 percent) for assistive products, and more than 65 percent of them have unmet health needs, compared to 25 percent of peers without disabilities [who have unmet health needs]," Mazedul added.
Amrita Rozario, country director of Sightsavers Bangladesh, said the social protection system designed for persons with disabilities in Bangladesh will not bring any sustainable change to their lives and livelihood, rather, it will increase their dependency on the government.
"The government should facilitate required education and skills for this group, so they can enter the labour force and achieve self-reliance," she said.
"For those who want to start small and medium enterprises [SME], the government can provide interest-free loans to flourish their ventures. If they can be included in the SME sector, it will bring sustainable transformation to their lives overall," she added.
Along with economic inclusion, Amrita also urged the government to include needs of this group in disaster management programmes.
Dr Tapash Kumar Biswas, director (research) at Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation, said people with disabilities sometimes consider themselves to be incapable of taking loans, thinking whether they will be able to repay them. Also, field officers of microfinance organisations are reluctant to invest in their ventures, considering them to be too risky.
Rozina Haque, programme head of Ultra-Poor Graduation Programme at Brac, highlighted the need for a separate budget allocation to address specific challenges this group faces, and make public services and infrastructure more inclusive.
Mentioning the vaccination programme, Albert Mollah, executive director of Access Bangladesh Foundation, said people with disabilities are not on the government's priority list, even though those who financed vaccine programmes prioritised the group in their documents. That priority was absent in domestic documents.
Prof Shahadat Hossain Siddique of Dhaka University; Prof Shawkat Akbar Fakir, project coordinator at ActionAid Bangladesh; Md Enamul Haque Sarker, programme manager of Islamic Relief Bangladesh; Khandaker Jahurul Alam, executive director of Centre for Services and Information Disability; Ashrafun Nahar Misti, founder of Women with Disabilities Development Foundation; Md Arifur Rahman, chief executive of Young Power in Social Action; Mohammad Shibly of USAID, US Embassy Dhaka; Rabeya Sultana, country director of Muslim Aid-UK Bangladesh, among others, spoke at the event.