Disability is no liability | Sunday Observer

Disability is no liability

Today, the world population is over seven billion people and more than one billion people, or approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population, live with some form of disability and 80 per cent of them live in developing countries.

Here are some statistics on disability: Over 1 billion people in the world have some form of disability, that’s 1 in 7; more than 100 million disabled persons are children; children with disabilities are almost four times more likely to experience violence than non-disabled children; 80% of all people with disabilities live in a developing country; 50% of disabled persons cannot afford health care (unless they live in free healthcare countries such as Sri Lanka).

The world will mark the International Day for Persons with Disabilities on December 3 (Tuesday). The 2019 Theme is “Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda”.

This year, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) focuses on the empowerment of persons with disabilities for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as anticipated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which pledges to ‘leave no one behind’ and recognizes disability as cross-cutting issues, to be considered in the implementation of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Disability is referenced in various parts of the SDGs and specifically in parts related to education, growth and employment, inequality, accessibility of human settlements, as well as data collection and monitoring of the SDGs.

According to the United Nations, a disability is a condition or function judged to be significantly impaired relative to the usual standard of an individual of their group. The term is often used to refer to individual functioning, including physical impairment, sensory impairment, cognitive impairment, intellectual impairment, mental illness, and various types of chronic diseases. Note that some disabilities are essentially hidden and may not be apparent to another person.

Persons with disabilities, “the world’s largest minority”, have generally poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is largely due to the lack of services available to them (like information and communications technology (ICT), justice or transportation) and the many obstacles they face in their everyday lives. These obstacles can take a variety of forms, including those relating to the physical environment, or those resulting from legislation or policy, or from societal attitudes or discrimination.

People with disabilities are also at a much higher risk of violence: Children with disabilities are almost four times more likely to experience violence than non-disabled children. Adults with some form of disability are 1.5 times more likely to be a victim of violence than those without a disability. Adults with mental health conditions are at nearly four times the risk of experiencing violence. Factors which place people with disabilities at higher risk of violence include stigma, discrimination, and ignorance about disability, as well as a lack of social support for those who care for them.

The UN has found that when barriers to their inclusion are removed and persons with disabilities are empowered to participate fully in social life, their entire community benefits. Barriers faced by persons with disabilities are, therefore, a detriment to society as a whole, and accessibility is necessary to achieve progress and development for all.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recognizes that the existence of barriers constitutes a central component of disability. Under the Convention, disability is an evolving concept that “results from interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” More than 180 countries including Sri Lanka have signed this Convention.

Accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities are fundamental rights recognized by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and are not only objectives, but also pre-requisites for the enjoyment of other rights. The Convention seeks to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life and development. On June 11, 2019, UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy in line with his commitment to make the United Nations an inclusive organization for all.

In Sri Lanka, around 300,000 people live with some form of disability. Some are disabled by birth and others acquire a disability later in life, by accident, disease, medical necessity or natural causes. There is an alternative term “Differently-abled” to denote the fact that disabled people may have other skills useful to society.

While all Governments since Independence have brought in laws to strengthen the provisions and facilities available to the disabled, there still are many shortcomings in this sector. Even some of the new buildings, which are required by law to be disabled-friendly, do not quite meet the required standards. Three is also no clear signposting of how the disabled can access the facilities available at these buildings. These can be simple steps – like having the lift call-up buttons at wheelchair level or having a guard rail in a bathroom.

However, almost all car parks in the country now provide at least two parking spaces for vehicles carrying disabled persons, though these are sometimes occupied by cars carrying able-bodied persons. It is time the Sri Lankan authorities introduced a permit system for the vehicles used by disabled persons as seen in many other countries. Others who park in these spaces can be fined or warned.

It is also time to change our laws to enable certain categories of mobility impaired persons to drive suitably modified motor vehicles. Many countries permit persons without lower limbs to operate vehicles that can be operated entirely by hand. Moreover, extra duty concessions must be granted for such vehicles and all other vehicles designed for the disabled, such as motorized tricycles.

But medical advances may make disabilities a thing of the past over the next 10 decades. There already are ‘artificial eyes’ that help blind people to make out certain shapes. Some forms of deafness can be addressed by the latest hearing aids. Artificial limbs that can feel and act like the real thing are already on the way. Artificial hearts and lungs are not so far away either. Some scientists have shown that babies can be ‘gene-edited’ to delete any congenital birth defects and diseases, though this remains highly controversial and unethical in many countries. It is safe to say that by 2100 many of today’s disabilities will no longer exist. A world free of disabilities is the ideal goal that we should all strive for.