Once Buckminster Fuller said, "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." Often we will come across a variety of initiatives taken for the development of people and their distress and we see hundreds of approaches and ideas from people coordinating them. Those people get involved partially because some of them are victim of the problem itself, some are passionate to eradicate them while most of them work because they are paid to do so. One such problem is disability and the persons with disabilities.
People who are suffering from those problems only know what they go through every day. The overall number of persons with disabilities pursuing their academic or professional life is very low. Even if they do their struggle to pursue education or get trained for different jobs, the number is not that substantial while very few succeeded. Hundreds of development programmes have been taken in Bangladesh and thousands more will be executed in the future. Now the question comes how effective are the programmes taken so far or are the major faults in the whole system have been identified? What I personally believe and learned through my research is that, beside the development programmes we need to invest in raising awareness among general people so that they change their perception about disability and advocate more about disabled friendly environment.
Triannually, the Department of English & Modern Languages of North South University (NSU) gives the opportunity to the students to carry out a novel research on a social cause. Under the supervision of Ms Nadia Kamal Al-Siraj, I have carried out my research on 'Disabled Friendly' Environment and our Perception. The hypothesis and the predicted results completely changed once the final survey reports came out.
For the research a background study has been done on the developments of legal rights for the disable students and what major steps has been taken by the government of Bangladesh. The working procedures of different NGOs and student voluntary organizations have been studied and information was quoted from their reports. Interviews were taken from people working with law and those involved in development initiatives. Finally, a general survey has been carried out among youths and professionals to find out their perception on disability and how disabled friendly is their professional institution or academic campuses are.
When asked to the students about their personal experience with disability and persons with disabilities, 52 per cent of them said they have someone in their family or they know someone who has some sort of physical and mental disability. Almost same number of students said they have personally interacted with a visually impaired or blind person. Among them 78 per cent said they have seen a disable person pursuing their academic career and 55 per cent said that they have seen or heard a disable person working in a professional institution. Surprisingly, 57 per cent said they do know the basic requirements and special facilities required by a disable person or to make an establishment disabled friendly.
When asked about whether the present human rights condition and legal frameworks of Bangladesh are in favour of disable person or not, 17 per cent agreed while 37 per cent disagreed with the fact; added to that, 8 per cent said they have no idea about the basic human rights and alarmingly 38 per cent said they do not have much knowledge about the legal frameworks. Then they were asked whether they would like to volunteer for initiatives to make disabled friendly campus and institution, 75 per cent however said they would love to get involved while 8 per cent said no. Unfortunately, 17 per cent said that they are not even interested in any sort of volunteerism. As the last personal question they were asked whether they would like to employ any persons with disabilities in their institution or industry provided they are well trained and suitable for that job and 85 per cent said they would gave them jobs while 6 per cent directly said no, 4 per cent said they would not trust them for the assigned jobs and the rest 5 per cent gave different conditions and reasons for their answer.
The last part of the survey asked respondents to mark five different topics and give their remarks based on disabled friendliness and their perception. Based on the collected data, most of them gave average remarks to their academic institutions and to their residential complexes where they live. Almost 80 per cent people said the public transport system of their city is below average based on disabled friendliness. When asked them about the condition of human rights and legal frameworks of Bangladesh, above 95 per cent gave them average or below average based on their perception. Figure 1 presents the details.
Hundreds of students from different universities took part in the survey, among them majority are from Dhaka University, Jahangirnagar University, North South University and BRAC University. Apart from them, many responses came from international universities through our online survey platform. From UK, volunteers participated from University of Glasgow, University of Leicester, BPP University, from Canada we had responses from McMaster University, students studying at Monash University, Australia and from USA, students of University of Pennsylvania and University of Southern California also gave their opinions. Figure 2 portrays further detailed remarks based on their academic institutions. It seems that almost all international universities are well equipped compared to our local ones. And based on data the private universities are more disabled-friendly with compared to public universities.
Regardless of our limited resources, we are trying our best for the development of the disable persons and to create more opportunities for them. But instead it's high time we should try more to change the perception of the general people. In that way it would be easier to incorporate the disable person in our society and in our family. As once A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said, "Problems are common, but attitude makes the difference". We should try to change our attitude towards disability and work together for a better future, together with Persons with Disabilities.
The writer, is an Electrical Engineering student at North South University and worked as the project consultant of the
Physically-challenged Development Foundation (PDF)