Inaccessibility hinders inclusion

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A national study 2014/2015 on living conditions among people with disabilities revealed that despite the various legislations and policies to promote access to several services/facilities for persons with disabilities, most of them especially in rural areas are deprived of those services. Physical and communication/information infrastructure, where available, not being sufficiently accessible has become one of the major reasons behind perpetual exclusion to a greater extent. Roads, public buildings, governmental websites and other basic infrastructure which were built recently have all failed to follow government directives on Accessible Physical Structure and Communication Services which was adopted in 2012. Similarly, assistive devices which are key prerequisites to enhance access to services and increase participation, are not appropriately manufactured and distributed. As a consequence, people with disabilities are experiencing hardship in accessing basic services on a daily basis, thereby resulting in fewer opportunities for them to utilize their full potential toward obtaining socio-economic development.

Since disability sensitive structures would, by default, be accessible for all groups of people, it will be a very important milestones toward social inclusion if we could incorporate them in our physical infrastructural development planning. Further, it will safeguard comfort, mobility and safety for people with disabilities. Access to participation and opportunities for utilization and enjoyment of their civil, political, economic, social, cultural rights and entitlements will be improved for their socio-economic growth as a result. For instance, if government could ensure at least accessible transportation and voting mechanism for the upcoming local election, it would be a very contextual example of protecting the civic rights for voting of the people with disabilities.

Ironically, very few such accessible physical structures and information systems are there even in the capital city Kathmandu. Establishing accessible structures is not an easy task though, as it requires huge resources backed by technology. Perhaps in country like Nepal, considering the existing sociocultural and geographical constraints, it is further challenging to achieve them. Having said this, we cannot have them reason for doing nothing about it. Based on the available resources (national and international) on inclusive guidelines and framework, we can explore many small and cost-effective initiatives as an alternative to address those physical barriers that impede rights of people with disabilities to participate and enjoy the services which they are entitled to. Installation of wooden ramp at the entrance of a building is an example of simple and budget adaptation we can do to ensure comfort and mobility of persons in a wheelchair. Such small but sensible efforts from all can make a huge difference for the people with disabilities.

A disability-friendly accessible toilet was inaugurated at Bhrikuti Mandap recently on the occasion of International Disability Day with combined contribution and efforts of several non-government development organizations working for people with disabilities. This is the first accessible toilet we have in Kathmandu. Our dream for an inclusive society is not very far, If we join hands for similar initiatives. And the existing scenario suggests extensive work has to be done still as we lack many more such basic infrastructure that are design in an accessible manner.

If people with disabilities are denied their rights, physical access to services and decision-making structures simply because the specific needs (mobility, safety) have not been taken into consideration, it will reinforce exclusion and self-stigmatization which will hinder inclusion process. Ensuring their access to different services through accessible structures can create an enabling environment for their proactive participation and engagement in mainstream societal development. And this is essential for their empowerment and social security.

Further, the issue of disability has explicitly been referenced in various parts of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and specifically in parts relating to education, growth and employment, inequality, accessibility of human settlements, as well as data collection and monitoring of the SDGs. With the founding principle of “leaving no one behind”, this global campaign emphasizes a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all. And our conscious and continuous efforts in ensuring access to physical structures, information, technology and communication to diverse groups of people including people living with disabilities will be a basic but very crucial step that directly contributes toward this global vision.

Inclusion is a transformative process and thereby cannot happen overnight and be achieved from ad hoc interventions. It requires vision, systematic planning, and requires everyone to internalize its essence to ensure collaborative actions. Merely developing different guidelines and framework on inclusion will not suffice if they are not transformed into practice. Since inaccessibility is a major hindrance in mainstreaming inclusion, our actions now, therefore, should be directed toward capacitating people on such inclusion guidelines and principles, and implementing them in our structural planning at least for public infrastructure. In this way by realizing diversity, respecting the specific needs and becoming inclusive in our approach, we can ensure equal opportunities for all.