Any form of disability is associated with stigma. Although Bhutan has come far in terms of infrastructure development for person with disability, acceptance has a long way to go.
Dr Sanga Dorji led a group of visually impaired colleagues and founded Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan (DPAB). The thought of initiating something like this hit him while he was attending a conference abroad.
“I felt the need to speak for ourselves and to have a voice of our own,” said Dr Sanga Dorji.
The idea was also to represent the special community in the international fora and to discuss issues pertinent to the community, to basically share experiences and knowledge to better the lives of the differently-abled people.
“We wanted to tell the community that things could be changed. Stigma will remain unless a person is a contributing member of a society,” he said.
Established in 2010, by and for the community of differently-abled people, the civil society organisation believes in empowering special section of people by providing them with the necessary assistance. The organisation supports persons with disability by opening education opportunity and by making the public aware of the daily struggles differently-abled persons go through.
DPAB is dedicated to improving the living standards of the people with disability through various training programmes and financial grants for medical treatment, among others.
Since the inception of the DPAB, 47 students have been benefited with education and 32 medically supported. The association has provided life skills training in spa and music to a total of 25 persons with disabilities.
About 4,451 differently-abled people have been registered with DPAB.
Sanga Dorji, who is also the DPAB’s chairperson, said, “When government makes policy, whether its education, health, economy or whatever policy, they should be inclusive. Differently-abled people shouldn’t just be given charity, clothes, and food, and left alone. They should be made part of the society, part of the activities. They should be a contributing member of the society and not just recipients.”
To fulfil DPAB’s mandate of working towards fostering the rights of persons with different abilities and to impart awareness on disability, the CSO receives support from international partners. A donor agency from Norway has been supporting the CSO for the last five years both in terms of finance and collaboration.
The primary mandate of the association is to supplement the efforts of the government to promote the rights and well-being of differently-abled people.
However, there are challenges that the CSO faces. The biggest setback it faces is the issue of sustainability. Human resource constraint is another problem. As a cross-sector organisation, DPAB wants to set up a centre that is accessible not only to the visually impaired but also to people with hearing disability and wheelchair users. It wants to provide necessary resources such as wheelchair for the handicapped or a tutor who knows sign languages for the deaf, and to increase accessibility and assistive devices for those who need.
Dealing with the challenges of the people with disability is difficult for the CSO. Such societal problems and challenges call for widespread effort and initiatives from every sector. DPAB can only facilitate and advocate the people. Social support is essential in making society inclusive.
DPAB, Draktsho and Ability Bhutan Society in collaboration with Gross National Happiness Commission and other stakeholders concerned are trying to push forward a policy that would help make the lives of the community of differently-abled better.
Dr Sanga Dorji said that people should accept disability as a human characteristic and that the differently-abled should come forward and contribute in whatever ways they can. Although GNH is embedded in our economic development policies, the policy for stipulating the rights of the people with disabilities is yet to be ratified, he added.
“An inclusive Bhutanese society that recognizes and respects the rights and needs all persons living with disabilities in Bhutan, and promotes their long-term physical, psychological and social well being”
“To facilitate the provision of inclusive education and improve the living conditions of persons with disabilities in Bhutan so that they can meaningfully participate in social, economic and political front”.