… as enshrined in the UN CRPD ratified last year

Tshering Palden 

Imagine living in a society where it is not built to accommodate your basic needs where everyday tasks become monumental challenges, where the simple act of going to work, attending school, or enjoying leisure activities requires meticulous planning and adaptation. 

This is the reality for many persons with disabilities in the country including children, Phurpa Wangchuk said at the International Day of Persons with Disabilities last month. Phurpa Wangchuk  spoke from the floor because the stage did not have a ramp.  

He said that in the face of diverse challenges, persons with disabilities (PWD)continually exhibit resilience, determination, and a remarkable spirit. “Yet, we often encounter barriers that extend beyond physical limitations; barriers rooted in societal attitudes, misconceptions, and the lack of accessible infrastructure.”

There have been developments mainly in the legislation. The government approved the National Disability policy in 2019 and then in October last year, the parliament ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). 

The policy outlines interventions from accessible infrastructure to employment opportunities. For instance, it requires the government to ensure that all new public buildings incorporate universal designs and features that make it accessible to all people including Persons with Disabilities. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, and local governments are responsible for ensuring that all public spaces are accessible to Persons with Disabilities.

The UNCRPD’s objectives are to ensure and promote the full and equal enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities (PWDs). This encompasses crucial aspects such as accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education, training, social protection, and health to promote respect for their inherent dignity.  

Bhutan signed the Convention on September 21, 2010 but it was left without ratification. The four reservations were made by the government on four Articles through an examination process of the nation’s norms and consultation meetings with various agencies that are involved with persons with disabilities. These reservations ought to be lifted with the progressive realisation of the rights of persons with disabilities. 

The parliament adopted the Convention with four reservations on Article 18 Liberty of Movement and Nationality, Article 23 Respect for Home and Family, Article 27 Work and Employment, and Article 29 Participation in Political and Public Life. There are 50 Articles agreed upon by State parties.  

Bhutan’s 2017 Population and Housing Census of Bhutan reveals a disability prevalence rate of 2.1 percent (15,567 persons). Of these, 47.9 percent (7,456) are male, and 52.1 percent (8,111) female. While 80 percent or 12,512 of the disabled individuals live in rural areas, 20 percent (3,055) are in urban areas.

The UN CRPD will be implemented by the Planning and Policy Division under the Prime Minister’s Office.

Kinley Wangchuk from the Disabled People’s Association of Bhutan (DPAB) said that with the ratification of the convention and a national policy in place, the community of people with disabilities are expecting tangible actions from the authorities and the new government. 

“The ratification of the convention means that PWDs can exercise their rights and no longer remain subject to charity,” he said. “We are talking of equitable opportunities.” 

With the ratification of UNCRPD, disabilty inclusion in Bhutan should shift from the current, largely charity model to a more social and human rights model, where persons with disabilities are not mere recipients of compassion and charity but active agents of change in society, contributing to nation building, based on their strengths. 

A former senior civil servant said that it was not the lack of good will that prevented organisations from acting to help persons with disabilities. “The main issue has been lack of resources and until there is adequate state funding not much can be achieved,” he said. 

Local leaders said that all structures in the gewogs are not inclusive and retrofitting them requires a lot of money. However, adopting universal design principles at the design stage is highly cost-effective.

Decheling Gup in Pemagatshel, Jimba Drukpa said that the funding for development activities has dropped over the years. “Unless there is central funding for such activities, there is not much we can do.” 

Meanwhile, Phurpa Wangchuk said that inclusivity is not just about ramps and elevators. He said it was about breaking down the walls of prejudice and fostering a society that embraces diversity in all its forms. 

“It is about recognising the unique talents and contributions that persons with disabilities bring to the table.” 

In partnership with UNICEF, Kuensel will publish a series of stories on children’s and young people’s issues as part of the new Country Programme Cycle and emerging priorities.