The final draft would be submitted to the Gross National Happiness Commission by the end of March 

Consultative meeting for the draft national policy for the persons living with disabilities (PWDs) focused on improving accessibility, human resource and capacity building, information management by service providers and caregivers, and to provide necessary financial support to improve the lives of PWDs.

Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) conducted a need assessment survey in 2016 to understand the challenges, exposure, and services required by PWDs. The survey included around 500 respondents from 17 dzongkhags. The assessment found out that around three percent of the children living with disabilities (CWDs) availed of early learning facilities.

Of the 475 respondents, 24 percent attended school, 14 percent were dropouts, and 16 percent did not attend in any form of institutions. It also found that out of 115 CWDs, 43 percent were out of school. About 18 percent of PWDs did not avail of health services as the services were not accessible or they were unaware of the services available, or because of inaccessible infrastructure.

Senior research officer with GNHC, Tashi Dorji, said that the information and data available with the stakeholders on PWDs are fragmented and not comprehensive. “The services were provided based on the initiative and individual interest at the dzongkhags and community level. There were no mainstream programmes and plans based on the need of PWDs.”

He said that the PWDs were never involved in policy planning and programmes at the grassroots. “The policy would ensure policymakers and stakeholders to develop and plan programmes for PWDs, and come up with the lead agency to coordinate and implement the policy.”

He added that there were services given through SEN programmes in education and through Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Programme in the health sector, but the services need to be strengthened.

According to the study on teacher’s concern and experiences in teaching children with Special Education Needs (SEN), 69 percent of the respondent were not trained and equipped to teach SEN students.

The policy aims at empowering the rights of PWDs, promote inclusive development, improve socioeconomic conditions, and improve access to opportunities and services of PWDs and their family. It also aims at changing attitude and behaviour of society towards PWDs.

It stated that lack of education and marketable vocational training for children and youth with disabilities results in lack of opportunities for personal development and increases marginalisation and vulnerability.

The policy proposed the government and education ministry to develop strategies to increase accessibilities, provide financial and other forms of support, develop long-term strategy in human resource and capacity building, conduct awareness and sensitisation programmes to remove attitudinal behaviour towards PWDs, and maintain data on children with disabilities.

Physiotherapist at JDWNRH, Karma Phuentsho, said PWDs face difficulty in accessing the health services. “Their socioeconomic status is not at par with those without disabilities. Healthcare need of PWDs is twice as the person without disabilities and we need to be aware and understand the need of PWDs.”

He said that the health infrastructure development division ensures construction of health facilities with universal design that would be accessible to PWDs.

“The policy would provide room for reporting and to have corrective measures for the PWDs in case of services not made available,” Karma Phuentsho said.

The policy seeks to ensure that PWDs have access to affordable and quality healthcare service that are gender sensitive and age appropriate.

“PWDs are often susceptible to additional health conditions as a result of their primary disability. Despite these higher risks, PWDs are overlooked by health promotion and disease prevention efforts,” the policy stated.

One of the task force members, Dr Sanga Dorji, said that the policy would benefit all whether the person lives with disabilities or not. “Although the country has 3.5 percent of people living with one or other form of disabilities, the reality is it affects five other persons. It can be family, friends, and community. We need to multiply the percentage by five.”

He said that the inclusive education is perfect for mild to moderate disability. “For those suffering from other types of disability we need to start a separate institution. Inclusive should be the focus but we need to be clear about what includes inclusive,” he said. “The plan to have One SEN School in each dzongkhag would be doable and accessible to PWDs.”

He added that the disability covers a wide range. “The need for PWDs differs and the need should not be generalised.”

Participants recommended  the policy include a provision where it ensures the development of PWDs Act and the need to change different terms used to refer PWDs in other guidelines and regulations.

The policy ensures the programmes, plans, and policies of service providers and caregivers to undertake the responsibility of mainstreaming disability concerns in respective sectors, minimising discrimination, and emphasises the need for inclusion of PWDs.

GNHC and UNDP Bhutan conducted the consultation on the draft policy with the support from Austrian Development Agency in Thimphu on February 5.