Over 85 percent without formal education felt that disability was the result of past deeds

Knowledge about disability, its causes and implications is limited and in some cases misinformed among parents and children, according to the Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices (KAP) study on children with disabilities.

Children with disabilities is used to refer to children up to the age of 18 who have long term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in the society on an equal basis with others.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative, Rudolf Schwenk, said that some people consider only those having visible disability as a disable person.  “But what about children who cannot hear, or have slow cognitive learning, these are not immediately visible but are also important to recognise and detect at an early age so that these children can get adequate support.”

The study found few of the total 575 respondents to be aware of any national or international policies or legislation that might inform on issues of disability. Only 16 percent of respondents without Children with Disabilities (CWD) in their families and 23 percent with CWDs knew about Bhutanese legislation towards CWDs.

Deputy chief programmes officer with Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) and Special Education Needs (SEN) division, Tshering Lhamo, said that about half the respondents felt that children with disabilities should be in the same schools as other students. “Yet when asked if they should be in specialised schools, over 88 percent of respondents agreed that children with disabilities should be in specialised schools rather than general schools.”

The report states that 98 percent of respondents said they believed all children regardless of their needs or disability should go to school. Nine out of ten respondents agree that sending CWD to schools would benefit them.

The study indicates that attitudes towards CWD and their families are more positive among younger and highly educated respondents.

Tshering Lhamo said it is expected that people with higher levels of education to have more positive attitudes but that it is also important to recognise the sample size. “36 respondents fell into the educated category while 348 had no formal education, so the number with less positive attitudes are much higher.”

The population also felt that educational and social provision for CWD in Bhutan was improving and that the support provided by the state was adequate. “However, families with CWD feel that the support received both in school and within their community was still insufficient,” Tshering Lhamo said.

The study states that many parents also said that health professionals were not well trained to provide support to families with CWD, which has a detrimental effect on the services they provide. “Parents and children felt that teachers were willing to work with CWD, but that teachers have not received sufficient training to be effective in this area.”

The study identified four causes of disability- fatalistic belief that disability resulted from bad karma, inadequate neonatal care or poor diet during pregnancy, use of substance such as tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and poor hygiene including that experienced in hospitals as a contributing factor. “Over 85 percent of those without formal education felt that disability was the result of past deeds.”

The study identifies four target areas in its recommendations – policy environment and system strengthening, support to families of CWDs, attitudinal change of general population, and capacity development of professional groups.

The recommendations include establishing a national policy for social and educational inclusion of CWD, providing more visible and accessible support for CWD and their families, disseminating parent-friendly information on CWD, establishing a CWD awareness campaign, and providing specialist training in disability to all associated professional among others.

The nationwide study was undertaken by a UK-based University of Northampton (UoN), assisted for data collection by Bhutan Interdisciplinary Research and Development, a Thimphu-based firm. The education ministry commissioned the report with support from UNICEF.

Education minister Norbu Wangchuk, during the launch on November 4, described the KAP study as a significant document, which provides a good understanding on the lives of children with disabilities. “This report comes at an appropriate time because inclusiveness is being pushed harder in the development agenda of the 12th Plan.”

Lyonpo said it’s also timely because Bhutan as a society must increasingly make informed decisions based on research, knowledge, evidence and science, which the KAP study enables.

UNICEF regional director, Jean Gough said it is an accepted fact that children with disabilities are often the most invisible. “There is limited current data on disability in many countries as it’s costly to collect data on disability. Launching the first KAP study report by Bhutan today is already one step towards making the invisible, visible.”

Karma Cheki