Yangchen C Rinzin
With the national policy for persons with disabilities now in place, relevant stakeholders and persons with disabilities came in together to create awareness on the policy and how to do better with the help of the policy in Thimphu yesterday.
However, the policy’s action plan is still in the draft stage.
Although the action plan that will guide how to implement the policy, the participants expressed that whether there was a possibility of changing the policy or action plan and to make it accessible (format/ language) based on persons with disabilities’ (PWD) needs.
The action plan, which is being developed by the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), would also look into how to achieve the policy statement and plans through various actions.
GNHC’s chief of research and evaluation division, Phuntsho Wangyel, said that the endorsement of the policy was a milestone for the commission because it would provide facilities equally to PWD that has been missing so far.
“We’ve only considered disability as a medical treatment and never considered their needs beyond treatment,” he said. “The policy would provide them to live independently.”
Phuntsho Namgyel also added that today there was not even a data on how many persons with disabilities were employed although it is believed that about 30 PWD are employed in different sectors.
There are about 15,000 PWD (PHCB 2017).
“These people got jobs through their own merit and not because the government provided them with a special consideration or quota,” he said. “We’re also looking into the possibility of making action plan accessible.”
The participants were also oriented on the policy, education ministry’s 10-year road map for inclusive and special education, and standard for inclusive education. Speakers from Thailand and India also shared their practices on disability policy.
Wangsel Institute for Deaf’s principal Dechen Tshering expressed that deaf disability was invisible and so there was not much support, and questioned if the policy had any provision whereby the deaf community could have an association.
He also shared that the institute was facing the lack of interpreters.
“Will the policy help us have separate interpreters because our proposal for the interpreter was rejected by the RCSC, and will the policy push forward Bhutan Sign Language?” he asked. “We’re also deprived of participating in general sports, forget about deaflympics.”
The deaf students are unable to continue education after class X because the other schools cannot accept them without the interpreters. “When we’re faced with lack of interpreter in our institute, how can we provide them interpreters elsewhere?”
Phuntsho Namgyel said that they considered keeping one of the provisions in the policy, specifically for the Wangsel Institute where the RCSC should at least change the qualification level to class X and consider Bhutan Sign Language as qualification mark.
“We are concerned since after class 10, they have nowhere to go and we will definitely take into consideration of sports in the action plan,” he said.
ECCD and SEN division’s deputy chief, Pema Chogyal, said that forming association would be under the civil society organisation and that institute should guide people or students in how to form the association.
He said that RCSC already made three approvals like recruiting additional teachers for students with inclusive and special education needs, which includes Wangsel Institute too.
Amvalika Senapati from India said that having such policy would mean that Bhutan would have advantage of rectifying United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
A high-level task team has already been formed that is working and assess whether to rectify or not.
“The policy is missing a provision on the independency and acknowledging them as an individual,” she said. “But we must appreciate that Bhutan chose the right terminology as ‘persons with disability’”.
“The lack of separate data on the persons with disability would mean that Bhutan never took disability as part of SDG development goals,” she said. “Now that the policy is here, you should keep the data aligned with the SDG goals.”
Amvalika said that although it was appreciative of the education ministry establishing SEN programmes in at least one school in all the districts, however, this did not guarantee that it would reach out to all the children with disability.
“It’s also time that salary of the special education needs’ teachers should also be at par with the general teachers. Bhutan should also look into coming up with appropriate medium for the students with disability could have access to general curriculum,” she said.
She also shared that Bhutan should look into the possibility of having modal officers in every ministry and some relaxation in the employment at par with the non-disabled people, among others.
Conducted by the Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan, the workshop was funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation.
Meanwhile, the possibility of having justice service like legal aid for the persons with the disability is also being explored.