More than discrimination, it is compassion and sympathy that pose a challenge for people living with disability in Bhutan, according to an executive member of Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan (DPAB), Amrith Bahadur Subba.
He cited an example of how the abled, out of compassion, render help to the disabled but deprive them the opportunity and choice to complete a task. “More than sympathy, we need empathy.”
He also said that if there is a differently-abled child in the family, it is important that family members empathise with the child’s need and let them try to do everything on their own so that the child learns to do things independently.
Records maintained by DPAB states that there are 4,451 people living with disability in the country of which 2,481 are male and 1,970 are female.
With 486 physically challenged people, Samtse has the highest number of people living with a disability, followed by 357 in Wangduephodrang and 314 in Zhemgang.
Lack of accessibility and facilities is another challenge that hinders people living with disability from coming forward in the society.
Amrith Bahadur Subba said that DPAB officials were in Wangduephodrang in May this year to create awareness on disability, accessibility and inclusion among village leaders and village health workers.
He said that the programme was also intended to bring positive attitude towards disability and promote an inclusive community.
DPAB members say that by virtue of being a society of equal opportunity, there are equal rights for people living with disability in the country. However, there is a need for the right platform and opportunities.
“If we go to villages, we see most of the physically challenged people locked indoor,” a core member said. “If there is access and opportunity, the physically challenged people will come out of the closet and participate in the community.”
Most members say that infrastructures are not disable friendly.
Another member said that whenever there is a talk on disability inclusive services, policies and plans, people only think of people living with a disability. “In Wangduephodrang, we were trying to tell local leaders that once they become old, they will also become disabled, as they will not hear, see and walk properly.”
He said it is not necessary to create a separate facility for people living with disability but whatever services and facilities are being built, it is important to include services that would cater to the disabled. “If a ramp is constructed in place of stairs in community service, the physically challenged could also avail the service.”
DPAB members also said there is a need for social security for people who are totally dependent on their parents.
A 52-year-old woman from Trashigang, whose 17-year-old daughter suffers from development delay and is dependent on the mother to feed and to use the toilet, said she is worried about her daughter. “If anything happens to me, I don’t know if my other children would take care of her.”
Members said that in developed countries, people have a disability pension, where they will be paid some nominal allowances even if they cannot work.
Meanwhile, local leaders in Wangduephodrang agreed to construct disability friendly infrastructure in future.
A chiwog tshogpa from Phangyul, Kinley Dendup, said local leaders learnt the importance of disability-inclusive policies and plans.
He said the gewog officials committed to look at the possibility of providing nominal fees for people living with a severe disability if they do not have anyone to look after and construct infrastructures where disabled people can also avail services. “If we construct disabled-friendly infrastructure in community lhakhangs, old people can come for circumambulation.”