Right to leadership of persons with disabilities and issue of accessibility

Published On: February 2, 2022 06:30 AM NPT By: Krishna Gahatraj and Simone Galimberti

We call on members of society to rethink ways in which persons with disabilities and other members of the vulnerable groups can find a space to exercise their agency and be able to prove their skills and enjoy what we call their right to leadership.

Two months have passed since the latest International Day of Persons with Disabilities that, as usual, was celebrated on the 3rd of December.

Opinion pieces like the one you are reading won’t be enough to change the status quo and international days like the one observed in December come and go.

Yet we believe it is timely again to remain focused about the role of persons with disabilities play in the society

The hope is that this kind of reflection can help the general public and the policy makers to think more deeply about broadening the debate on disability inclusion in this nation.

Last year’s celebrations of International Day of Persons with Disabilities were, and remain, pivotal because they were focused on leadership that persons with disabilities should be able to play in the communities and societies where they live.

So far it is a story of missed opportunities and we can confidently say that persons living with disabilities, together with many other vulnerable groups, are not playing the role it would be expected from them because of the many barriers imposed upon them by society.

As every single human being, they have inborn talents, they develop skills and gain knowledge through the journey of life but still the chances available are commensurately fewer than those of other members of society without disabilities.

In a way, we can say that persons with disabilities are unable to exercise their leadership and their right to lead in society is denied.

It is a season of political parties’ conventions and you can simply notice how persons with disabilities are not at all part of the equation.

We are aware how the political leadership of the major mainstream parties is captured by the members of elite, historically privileged groups but the fact that there are no persons with disabilities with any relevant political role nationally and regionally is worrisome and dispiriting.

We call on members of society to rethink ways in which persons with disabilities and other members of the vulnerable groups can find a space to exercise their agency and be able to prove their skills and enjoy what we call their right to leadership.

Quotas are an important tool, among others, but we also need other affirmative policies, uncontroversial means that can right the historical and cultural wrongs inflicted on persons with disabilities.

Policy making also needs to change in order for persons with disabilities to be able to step up.

In the recent weeks, some positive developments on this front happened.

As it often happened, the overarching intentions are positive but then the way the policy making process is framed and unfolds is misplaced.

We are in particular referring to the recent effort to revise the national regulations on accessibility. Accessibility is a precondition for the full realization of the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities in society and development.

Accessibility is at the heart of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which enshrines the rights of persons with disabilities to have full access and fully enjoy and participate in social, economic, cultural, civil and political life, on an equal basis with others.

The Convention recognizes accessibility as an inherent right of persons with disabilities and also makes accessibility a precondition to the achievements of all other rights for persons with disabilities.

Without ensuring accessibility, persons with disabilities won’t be able to exercise their rights and express their potential and ultimately be prevented from leading.

This means that getting the issue of accessibility right is paramount for the overall emancipation and empowerment of persons with disabilities.

After the ratification of CRPD in 2010, Nepal Government endorsed the Directives on Physical Structures and Communication for Persons with Disabilities in 2013.

Though the Nepal Government jointly with Organizations of Persons with Disabilities worked on this, the reinforcement of such regulation remained almost ineffective.

Unsurprisingly, due to lack of appropriate monitoring, supervision and technical guidance mechanism, the government failed to ensure its adequate implementation.

Since it has already been eight years, the government has been recently working out to review this directive - something that is very positive.

What is now referred to as the Directives on Accessible System for Persons with Disabilities 2078, still in its final draft format, could really change our understanding of accessibility for the better.

However, there are many gaps behind this well-intentioned ongoing action.

Both the government and, we should say, many organizations of persons with disabilities, seem to lack a comprehensive understanding of ‘accessibility’.

Their limited and narrow understanding of accessibility in terms of ensuring ‘ramps’ availability throughout the country for wheelchair users is failing to make the process of revision of the directive comprehensive and holistic.

In many ways we are missing an opportunity.

As recognized by the Convention, disability is also an evolving concept and consequentially, there are different requirements that meet the different needs of different people within the disability community and the wider society as well.

Moreover and key, accessibility is not only limited to the persons with disabilities.

Instead the concept has a broader scope as envisioned in the current development paradigm, the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development.

Therefore, CRPD also mentions the important concept of ‘Universal Design Principle’ that promotes the consideration of all abilities of people while designing, planning and producing any products or infrastructures.

Due to several issues, we feel that the federal government and organizations of persons with disabilities should have, on revising the accessibility directive, embarked in a much broader process of consultations with all the stakeholders, an exercise that should reach out persons with disabilities but also going beyond them, involving other members of the society.

After all, we know that accessibility is not just about wheelchair users or persons with disabilities in general.

This is a wrong but generally accepted assumption.

Getting accessibility right is equally important to other stakeholders, for example the aging population, pregnant women, children, and of course, people with diverse abilities.

Therefore, the government should revise the directive after having the wider consultations with all the stakeholders that matter and have a stake on the issue.

Such a step would drastically widen the overall discussions on disabilities, in a way, normalizing it because that, everyone is, in some way or another, living with a disability that might be hidden or simply not visible.

The key message of this international day is that persons with disabilities must be provided with leadership opportunities.

Certainly this quest does not imply nor warrant passivity on the side of persons with disabilities.

They should not just wait for someone else to give them what is granted and to many extents, persons with disabilities are already powering their way towards self-realization and self-fulfillment.

Every single day actions matter and we salute many citizens living with some forms of disabilities for what they are doing relentlessly and boldly.

We encourage others as well, not to shy away and open up about their own disabilities.

Leadership is a continuous journey and we hope that society as a whole will seize the opportunity to rethink the final draft of the Directives on Accessible System for Persons with Disabilities 2078 not as a further loss of precious time but as a way to set the conversation about social inclusion right and enable a new understanding of disability to take roots.

This is a key precondition for enabling persons with disabilities and others to fulfill their potential and lead their nation.

Before waiting for another International Day of Persons with Disabilities, let’s keep talking about inclusion and leadership and accessibility.It is such an important conversation that the country cannot miss it out.

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