Living life with a disability is more than difficult in Bangladesh and many other Low and Middle-Income Countries (LMIC) compared to the relatively affluent countries where social safety net and economic support system may somewhat lessen the disability-associated burden. The social, economic, cultural, structural and other barriers make living with disability a formidable task here. Given the current dreadful living conditions of people with disabilities (PWD) in Bangladesh and the associated extreme economic insecurity, heightened focus and efforts must be directed toward bringing in the necessary changes so that PWDs can live with dignity, become economically independent, and integrate into and contribute to the society. Vital steps should include creating compassion in the society about their rights and providing them with much-needed healthcare services. Greater awareness, empathy, and understanding on their needs of accommodation, health, transportation, education and security may help make it possible for these people to live productive lives instead of relying mostly on others for their survival or sustenance. Another critical step is to provide them with income-generating opportunities as well as job skills.
Several skills training programmes by the Bangladesh government and several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are now in operation for PWDs, with an emphasis on vocational skill development and there are also job creation and placement efforts and programmes. But due to inappropriate infrastructure, shortage of trainers, and an unbefitting institutional environment, training institutions are falling behind in increasing the admittance of PWDs. Therefore, during organising educational programmes, the training providers must ensure providing them with reasonable accommodations or/and adjust the learning modules and delivery. Failure to do so may be considered discriminatory and may produce an apprentice who is not well prepared for the labour market and employers would recruit an employee who is not meeting their expectations. Employers should modify workplaces so that PWDs may apply their skills and perform their assigned tasks effectively.
Workplace Accommodations refer to changes in the work process, work hours, work tools and devices, the workstation, and the general physical environment along with modified performance and evaluation Standards. The official definition of Reasonable Accommodation by the Rights and Protection Act of Persons with Disabilities 2013 of Bangladesh states-- the necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms". According to the ILO, most PWDs do not need any accommodations to do their jobs, and in 55 per cent of cases, making an accommodation, such as changing work hours so an employee with a disability can access less packed transportation does not cost anything.
In Bangladesh, PWDs account for about one-tenth of the population, and this large population segment has the potential to meaningfully contribute to the country's economy and participate in the labour force provided their right to decent work is protected and maintained. Fortunately, the government of Bangladesh has demonstrated a strong commitment to mainstream PWD; in 2007, Bangladesh was one of the first nations to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. To support this commitment, the government has set a 5 per cent admission quota for students with disabilities at all technical and vocational training institutes.
Job skills are broadly divided into hard and soft skills. Hard skills are those that are achieved by understanding, learning, and being proficient by following specific activities, related methods and techniques, and these skills are easily measurable. On the other hand, soft skills include but are not limited to acquiring social skills, communication skills, and certain emotional intelligence. For PWDs, to perform jobs and involve in income-generating activities, these stated skills are not impossible to obtain and most of them already have it.
However, the major setbacks relate to the lack of appropriate accommodation in the workplace, the unfavourable attitude towards disability in Bangladeshi society and these are creating larger barriers to keep them away from living meaningful and productive lives. Individual needs of a PWDs can often be met simply by changing work hours, offering disability-friendly stairs, adjusting the workstation, offering modified duties, making sure that the required physical items/tools are kept in a way that those are easily reachable by them, etc. at the workplace. Thereby, an individual with a disability can contribute to society and economy similar to a person without any disability. Non-cooperating attitude and unfriendly systems towards PWDs are visibly present in the society and workplace. Also, PWDs may not have the required awareness and information about their rights and opportunities. Therefore, the creation of a supportive environment for them is still a far cry in Bangladesh.
PWDs are still living like outcasts in Bangladesh. Where social safety and the support system are almost non-existent, they often live as either destitute or remain a burden on their family members, relatives, and well-wishers. With regards to rehabilitation measures, more involvement of professionals like physical and occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists is critical for their social re-integration and labor force entry or reentry.
Job skills training may help many of them. The creation of modified jobs and making simple workplace accommodations in mainstream employment sectors can fundamentally change the scenario for people who have or develop disabilities. In Bangladeshi society, people with disabilities face insensitivity and marginalisation. Bangladesh needs to continue creating more economic and social opportunities for these population groups.
Kazi Farzana Sharmin works for Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) and Hasnat M Alamgir is a professor of public health.