Disability still hugely misunderstood

Reveals a survey of 577 households from nine Dzongkhags

Knowledge regarding disabilities in children is “extremely” limited with 80% of respondents to a survey including professionals holding the belief that disability is borne of karma due to past deeds, according to a report released by the Ministry of Education.

The Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) study on children with disabilities (CWD) reveals that people understood disability only as severe physical and sensory impairments.

“Intellectual impairment is not perceived as disability,” states the KAP report.

A total of 577 households from nine Dzongkhags namely, Bumthang, Chukha, Mongar, Pemagatshel, Punakha, Thimphu, Tsirang, Trashigang and Zhemgang, were surveyed for the report. Over 60% of the respondents were identified as having received no formal education, while only 36 respondents held a bachelor’s or postgraduate degree.

“Only half of the respondents indicated that they understood the term intellectual disability, about the same proportion that recognized wearing glasses as a disability,” states the report.

CWD refers to children up to the age of 18 who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments, which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

The report also states that 21% of Bhutanese children between two to nine years live with one or more disabilities. These children are a diverse group and include those with cognitive, visual, hearing, speech, physical, and behavioral impairments.

One of the challenges for Bhutan is to endure that all children with special educational needs and disabilities receive appropriate education and social services, states the report.

Talking to Business Bhutan, the Deputy Chief Program Officer for special education system, Pema Chhogyel, said that disability is common and everybody is likely to face disability one way or the other in their life, be it with age, accident, health issues or by birth.

“Though people are more aware of disabilities, there is still need for more knowledge on CWD in Bhutan,” he said, “People need to be more aware and there is a need for increased advocacy. Most importantly people need to change their attitude toward disability, which is the main barrier in supporting CWD.”

The study indicates that attitude toward CWD and their families were more positive among younger respondents and highly educated respondents.

“People should consider empowering children with disabilities instead of stigmatizing them,” said Pema Chhogyel.

Pema Chhogyel added that making Bhutan friendlier for the disabled would involve more commitment to creating services and infrastructure that are disabled-friendly and responding to people with disability.

“However, people now are more aware of the needs of the disabled and are trying to incorporate conducive services and support in small ways.”

Pema Chhogyel also said that though it is difficult to make all the infrastructure disabled-friendly due to the nature of geographical terrain, small changes like covering drainage channels and building accessible footpaths and ramps would amount to a lot.

“We are not demanding that a whole building should be connected with ramps or lifts but at least the ground floor, surroundings and the entrance to a building should be disabled-friendly,” he said.

The study recommended establishing a national policy and strategy for social and educational inclusion of CWD, ensuring quality and availability of educational and social support services to CWD and families and building informed and skilled workforce by appropriately training service providers at various levels.

One of the recommendations was also ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Eliminating gender disparities in education and ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous people and children in vulnerable situations by 2030 forms part of the country’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Lucky Wangmo from Thimphu