Living under the shadow

- Simone Galimberti
Living under the shadow

Jun 1, 2015-

The recent earthquake has

devastated the lives of many and has imperiled that of many more. Yet few of us have thought about the implications of recent events for a person living with disabilities (PLWD).

Let’s make an effort to see the crisis from their side: what does it mean being on a wheelchair and not having the ability to access the shelters that have been set up by local communities? What could be the feelings and emotions of someone who has to abandon themselves to others, no matter how close they are, in order to run out of the house when the shocks come, simply because they are visually impaired? And what about expressing your fears or needs in a way that it is understandable to many when you are mute and deaf?

These are but a few problems that people living with disabilities have encountered since the first quake rattled the country. But, sadly speaking, very little has been done to bring their issues to the forefront and try to address them. While international law and international humanitarian standards and practices clearly support and advocate for the mainstreaming of the disabled for emergency and humanitarian assistance, it is hard to find any concrete evidence that the post-quake relief assistance in Nepal is disability-centred.

Ideals and reality

Article 11 of the UN Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons living with disabilities outlines that state parties must take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk. Similarly, Article 32 advocates for a system approach based on the concept of international cooperation, where the state parties commit themselves, among others, to make all international development programmes inclusive and accessible to persons living with disabilities.

But the sad truth is that, as often happens, these international principles are just a source of inspiration rather than action for. In Nepal, PLWDs have neither been fully consulted for the kind of assistance they need, nor have they been adequately involved in the planning of relief efforts.

Most PLWDs are citizens living in high levels of vulnerability, who have been historically deprived of equal opportunities in countries throughout the world. And although some of them have been able to make their mark in various fields, they have done so in spite of all the hurdles thrown at them.

Birendra Pokharel, director of Abilis, has been pushing hard to make things better for the disabled at the advocacy level as well the grassroots level. Sristi KC, who is associated with Blinds Rock, has been using interpersonal skills, dance, fashion, and adventure sports to challenge the limits of what blind people can do. Similarly, Umesh Shrestha, a young visually impaired social entrepreneur, is involved in helping and supporting his working peers.

It is high time we celebrated stories like these, while trying to address the core issues that mark disability as a social stigma and a source of deprivation not only for PLWDs but for the entire country.

What can be done

So, to address the problems of the disabled, first of all, the Nepali government should come up with a special relief package for persons living with disabilities, taking into account all types of disabilities, including mental ones. But this should just be a short-term measure, since demanding special action in special times would not be enough to address the living conditions of persons living with disabilities.

We need to think on the long term and we need to think about their psychological and personal wellbeing when the emergency will be over. Change can start during the emergency, but efforts must be protracted and must continue in the future.

Only perseverance, commitment, and the work of a coalition of willing partners can bring about systematic change in the disability sector. We need to be ambitious and think big. Special on-the-job trainings, tailor-made working quotas in private and public sector companies, entrepreneurship funds together with a more generous welfare package, and specific actions in the educational sector, which is still incredibly inaccessible and unresponsive to the special needs of children with disabilities, should be the top priority of the government’s long-term plan for the disabled.

The emergency we are all facing can kick off a renewed interest not only on the needs but also on the aspirations, dreams, and capabilities of persons living with disabilities.

Galimberti is a co-founder of ENGAGE, an NGO

Published: 02-06-2015 07:23

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