December 3, 9:15am. Norzin Lam, the road that passes through the heart of Thimphu town, otherwise a busy traffic spot, was filled with persons on wheelchairs.

The 16 persons on wheelchairs were participating in a kilometer long race to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Physiotherapist at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital, Karma Phuentsho said the race was held to create awareness on the need and situation of persons living with disabilities.

“The number of people living with a disability is growing and there is a significant number of people using wheelchairs,” he said. “Having a wheelchair is important but not being able to move around with it is a problem. We must understand that we need our environment to be inclusive and meet the needs of wheelchair users.”

The race was aimed at promoting an understanding of disability and mobilises support for the dignity, rights, and wellbeing of persons with disability. It was to address barriers to inclusive development by creating awareness and educating the community on disability issues. The event also advocated on accessibility and participation of persons with disabilities

Executive Director of Ability Bhutan Society, Ugyen Wangchuk said the race conveyed that a person living with a disability not only exists, but have aspirations and capabilities to participate. “I admired the determination and enthusiasm of the participants.”

He said many stakeholders have come forward to address issues that challenge persons living with disabilities. “We hope that the government would enact legislation to address issues related to persons living with disabilities. If given the right support, intervention, and opportunity, people living with a disability will also equally contribute to their community. We should always remember that every individual has potential to do better,” he said.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said that the prevalence of disability is common among those living in poverty and is high in developing nation. The percentage of persons living with disability in the country is 3.4 percent. “We shouldn’t be complacent about the percentage being less compared to the global percentage. It should be a concern even if it’s one percent.”

Phub Thinly, 31, completed the race first. “Such events help us feel comfortable when we come out in public,” he said. “I did not expect to win but the race was more about coming together to convey the message of our situation.”

He won Nu 5,000 and a certificate. Tandin Dorji, a student at Kelki Higher Secondary School came second, and won Nu 3,500 while Rinchen Dorji from Khasadrapchu Middle Secondary School stood third and won Nu 2,500.