In 2018, Bangladesh registered around 1.6 million persons with disabilities (PwDs) under the Department of Social Services in order to provide them with the means to access basic necessities. While the government has promised full support for those with disabilities, many are left behind amid policy loopholes and inaccessibility of services at the grassroots level, especially in the southern districts of Bangladesh.
“Rights of the disabled are often overlooked in the countryside. Have you seen a wheelchair ramp in any of the government offices in our Union? These things are never taken into consideration,” says Md Zakir Hossen, head of the CSO People’s Association for Social Advancement in Patuakhali, an underdeveloped coastal district in southern Bangladesh.
The People’s Association for Social Advancement (PASA) is the only CSO out of a total 63 partner organisations which is working on a Social Action Project (SAP) focused on the rights of people with disabilities as part of the British Council’s P4D programme, which is funded by the European Union and supported by the Cabinet Division. The unique project taken on by the CSO is the cumulative result of previous experience with the issue, the drive to make a lasting difference, and enforce the integrity of public services for those in need.
Salauddin Ahmed Babu, SAP leader on improving rights for people with disabilities, says the CSO has been working with the differently-abled for a long time, and the projects with P4D are an extension of that. “PASA currently operates a school with 120 students with special needs, and we also have a nursing college that specializes in elderly care. In addition, we have a nursing home where 20 elderly people receive full support. We have experience with the issue so we decided to turn it into a SAP.”
Upon discussion with other volunteers and the P4D District Facilitator, CSO leader Zakir and SAP leader Babu decided they would focus the SAP on the government’s identification process, fund disbursement, and local awareness campaigns.
The team then conducted six meetings with local government offices and the medical board that officially recognizes Persons with Disabilities. They talked about the policy loopholes that make the process very lengthy and troublesome for the differently abled. “There’s no ramp in the office of the medical board that decides disability status. How are people with disabilities supposed to reach them if they have inaccessible offices? So, we contacted the local authorities to make arrangements. And members of the society also assisted us.” This call for integrity of service and infrastructure put much needed pressure on local public services providers to check their work and improve their service delivery.
Babu and his team also scouted the three unions under their jurisdiction to conduct a survey on the number of people with disabilities and prepared a list for ensuring proper distribution of social safety net funds. Through community meetings organized as part of the P4D programme, residents of the unions learned how to apply for safety net funds in the local government offices, a process generally unknown and thought to be inaccessible due to the lack of information.
Zakir says that lack of information is one of the biggest barriers for people who are in need of public support. “Since the government offices don’t have information charters or any clear direction on what to do, we decided to conduct rallies and distribute pamphlets with all the information in black and white. The residents are now fully aware of the process.
”The members of People’s Association of Social Advancement think their SAP made it possible for people with disabilities to access the support they are entitled to, despite all their difficulties." CSO leader Zakir says his organization has been working with the underserved population for a long time, and he thinks the P4D project could have been much more rewarding if he could cover more areas. “We just covered three unions. If we were given the chance, I think we could have covered the whole district or maybe even the country. There are people in need everywhere.”
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Platforms for Dialogue and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.