To enforce the new Disability Rights Act we will need an "opportunity based approach"

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With a new government in place, leaders of the disability community have been renovating their efforts to have the legislature pass a new disability act that would better reflect Nepal’s commitment towards the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of which Nepal is a signatory party. Finally their efforts paid up as a new Disability Act on the 6th August.

It was high time the state stepped up its support for persons living with disabilities, one of the most neglected groups in the country.

Passing a new disability act was long due especially if you look at the new commercial buildings been arising in the Valley of Kathmandu and around the entire country: brand new and fashionable constructions hosting prestigious offices and brands but inaccessible to a large part of the population.

Yet even the Act, while itself a turning point should leave no space for complacency: no one should be surprised if the existing indifference towards the rights of persons with disabilities persist.

After all, unless you are directly affected, either by being yourself a person with disability or by being a family member of a person with disabilities, you would not be really moved to work for a more disable friendly society.

The challenges are multifold: on the one hand, we have to work very hard to pitch for a country whose physical infrastructures are re-thought and re-designed putting at the center hundreds of thousands of persons living with disabilities while on the other one, we need to ensure that the country becomes more inclusive and have programs that allow persons with disability to climb the ladder and be in leadership positions.

We often think that having disabled friendly buildings is synonymous of ensuring a just and inclusive society but this is only partially true.

While having them in place, taking into consideration the rights and special needs of persons with disabilities is an important prerequisite for a more cohesive and just society, a real inclusive Nepal will happen only when a change in mindsets and behaviors is accompanied by a strong rights based legislation that protects the rights of all vulnerable minorities combined with creative measures to build the confidence and skills of youths with disabilities.

No doubt that it is indispensible to have a new legal framework, focused on the rights of persons with disabilities.

Equally important is to have other special legislations should be framed for other vulnerable groups in order to lay the pillars for a better Nepal.

Yet relying only on a “rights based approach” would not be enough. We also need to advocate and push for an “opportunities based strategy” that harnesses the hidden potential of youths with disabilities and their peers living in vulnerable status.

I am referring here to a framework of practical, tangible actions that can lift up all youths living in vulnerable status.

I personally know many youths with disabilities who reject owning a Disability Card, a progressive, though symbolic social security measure promoted by the Government to support persons with disabilities, because they do not want to be seen as a burden and, most importantly, they do not want shortcuts to success.

Yes success: we talk about inclusion but we should not forget that ultimate goal of any progressive actions in this domain should be aimed at kicking off personal development pathways leading to a thriving future for thousands of youths in vulnerable status.

An opportunity based approach, founded on a strong rights based frame, would motivate vulnerable youths to work hard to become the leaders of tomorrow rather than, short of hopes, just passive teachers or state employees with no excitement and passion for their jobs. 

It is often a matter only of self-confidence, of small actions that can boost the morale of a youth that make the real difference.

I bet that once we will have persons with disabilities in senior government or corporate positions, people will take notice.

Creating opportunities for vulnerable and disadvantaged youths is about harnessing the power of market but with some “nudging” towards self-empowerment because those youths with disabilities rejecting their monthly allowance coming with their disability cards are just looking for venues where they can shine and emerge. They are not out for handouts!

Corporate sector can also really make the difference and executives should realize that hiring a youth with disabilities is a no brainer, is a real “win win” for the company, for the newly hired employee and for the society in general.

Talking about social inclusion is certainly not easy and surely very complex and sensitive.

The best minds of the nation should come together to sketch out possible lines of actions to change the status quo for better.

Compulsory making new buildings accessible should remain a priority but it is not enough: we need a more comprehensive and strategic dialogue to really create the conditions for a radical overhaul of the system.

A national dialogue led by disabled activists with the government, development partners and business federations should be set up.

The most progressive legislations around the world were not easy achievements but required decades of efforts.

Even now in the welfare centric, progressive European Union, the fight is still on for a more comprehensive pan European legislation in matter of disabilities.

The efforts in this direction should be implemented at multi levels and within different platforms: strategic workshops, smart campaigning and peaceful street protests whenever the circumstances demand them.

Building alliances among vulnerable groups, sharing strategies to bring changes should also be of outmost priority for all those people and activists who advocates and fights peacefully for a country that celebrates and leverage diversities.

The International Day of Persons with disabilities, to be celebrated in December, is still far away.

We have enough time to be fully inclusive in devising a new innovative approach to make rights and opportunities real for persons with disabilities.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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