Physically Challenged but Not Disabled: the Issue of Human Rights

Everyone is different in respect of his/her colour, gender, ethnicity, size, shape, or anything else but equal in the eye of law. The law by way of constitutional rights treats all citizens alike, including those who are physically impaired. A psycho-social disability or intellectual disability, may affect the way people think, feel, or process information. Regardless of its characteristics, disability neither subtracts from nor adds to a person’s humanity, value or rights. People with disabilities have the same rights as all other people.

However, for a number of reasons they often face social, legal and practical barriers in claiming their human rights on an equal basis with others. These reasons commonly stem from misperceptions and negative attitudes toward disability. In most societies disabled people are viewed as helpless, dependent, and hence burdensome as tragic victims of fate. This attitude appears to lack the sensitivity to some of the real issues faced by disabled people. Another major misperception is that people with disabilities need pity from the society.

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It is much easier for people to offer pity and charity than to address the fear or discomfort the disabled face in running their daily life. Needless to say, persons with disabilities often face serious discrimination based on attitudes, perceptions, misunderstandings, and lack of awareness. For example, the misconception that people with disabilities cannot be productive members of the workforce may lead employers to discriminate against job applicants who have disabilities, even if they are perfectly qualified to perform the work.

Or, it might mean that the buildings where the jobs are located are not constructed in a way that people with mobility impairments can access them. Such limitations can affect other population groups as well. For example, in some societies the attitude toward women prohibits them from owning property or participating in public life. Hizras in our society have no social and property rights. In addition to attitudes and perception coming from external sources, the attitude of individuals directly affects the victims in claiming the legitimate rights that they are entitled to.

As a result of attitudes from both collective and individual standpoints, the disabled in most cases are led to believe that they are not like the rest of the people around them, that they have a subordinate status in society and worst perhaps, they are dependent on other’s pity. The most significant and widespread myth affecting human rights and disability is the idea that disability is a medical problem that needs to be solved or an illness that needs to be “cured. ” This notion implies that a person with a disability is somehow “broken” or “sick” and requires fixing or healing.

The result of this approach is to strip people with disabilities of the power and responsibility for taking charge of their own lives and asserting their rights on an equal basis with others. A person with disabilities may require a reasonable accommodation to facilitate his or her activities, such as a wheelchair or more time to accomplish a task. Reasonable accommodation is simply a resource or a measure designed to promote full participation and to empower a person to act on his or her own behalf.

This approach is not the same as trying to fix the person or fix the disability in the Medical Model or assuming that people with disabilities are incapable of acting for themselves in the Charity Model. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has given an International Classification of impairments, disabilities, and handicaps (ICIDH). This is an important and critical step in better understanding the concept of disability. The WHO in the year 2001 approved the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF).

ICF is a classification of health and health related domains that describe: (a) body functions and structures; (b) activities and participation; and (c) environmental factors on the basis of body, individual and societal perspectives. These are classified in three factors: Impariment, Activity limitation and Participation. Impairment is the loss or abnormality of a body structure or of a physiological or psychological function’. Activity is the performance of a task or action by an individual including physical and mental functions (grasping, seeing, remembering past events etc).

When a person is unable to do any of these activities or may do them only with discomfort, it denotes activity limitation. Participation is an individual involvement in life situations in relation to health conditions, body functions and structures, activities and contextual factors. Disability work has been viewed over the centuries as a charity and then as a welfare issue. It is only in the last decade that it began to be recognised as a development issue.

With more organisations gradually shifting into the rights based perspective, disability is gaining some momentum to be recognised as a rights-based and equity-based issue. Ignorance and wrong beliefs surrounding disability, compounded with a negative and derogatory attitude of the community, including family members, have contributed to the marginality of development that has occurred in the Disability sector in Bangladesh. A human rights approach to disability aims to empower people with disabilities to make their own choices, advocate for themselves and exercise control over their lives.

A rights-based approach to disabilities must protect both the civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights of people with disabilities. The social model of disability, which focuses on the responsibility of governments and society to ensure access, inclusion, and participation, sets the stage for the emergence of the Human Rights Approach to Disability, which focuses on the inherent human rights of persons with disabilities. This approach calls for equality of the disabled as claimants to the rights on an equal basis with all the people.

They should be recognised on an equal footing, and their disabilities should be seen as an element of natural human diversity, on the same basis as race or gender. The society and governments should take the responsibilities for ensuring that political, legal, social, and physical environments support the human rights and full inclusion and participation of people with disabilities. In Bangladesh however, the Disability Welfare Act adopted in the National Parliament in April 2001 has provided a set of national definitions and classifications of disability, which adhere to a medical rather than social model.

The Disability Welfare Act 2001 is entirely farmed on the principles of medical, welfare and charity based approach. Moreover, Rules under the Act has also limitation to cover the protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities. It has been learnt tghat a new draft Law has been approved in the Cabinet for presentation to Parliament for passing a new Act. We are not aware of the full details. The government had declared a 10 per cent quota for people with disabilities along with orphans about two decades back.

But due to in-sensitisation of employers about the potentialities of disabled people, contradictory employment policies, loopholes in the system and a lack of proper monitoring, the declared quota for the disabled people never got implemented properly. As per the Chapter 2 Clause 3 section 3 subsection A (ka) of the Recruitment Rules of the Government of Bangladesh (Bidhiboddho Protisthan shomuhe chakurir jonno adarsha probidhanmala), a candidate may be recruited for a post if he/she is certified as medically fit. On this ground candidates with isabilities, otherwise qualified, are not effectively considered till now for government, autonomous, statutory body’s employment. They are discriminates everywhere in the world. Discrimination is often based on mistaken ideas and stereotypes that ‘able’ group holds about another disables. The myths and stereotypes perception have impact on the lives of people with disabilities. By defining disability as the problem and medical intervention as the solution, individuals, societies, and governments avoid the responsibility of addressing the human rights issue.

Instead, they place the burden on the health profession to address the “problem” in the person with the disability. The policy makers of the government must adhere to the legislation enacted by Parliament and comply with international human rights instruments ratified by the government including its Optional Protocol for persons with disabilities. Allocations of Business of the different ministries of the government should be inclusive of concerns of persons with disabilities.

Currently, all development issues concerning disability is placed under the Ministry of Social Welfare. As a result, other ministries concerned ministries do not take into account disability as a cross-cutting development issue in their respective ministry’s development programmes. This is because policymakers are not oriented and trained on disability and development. The writer is pursuing PhD in Open University, Malaysia. shah@banglachemical. com| | |