The level of disability of a person with disability is not so much a reflection on the person with disability, as it is with Bhutanese society’s disability to accommodate and mainstream people with disability in Bhutan.
While people with disability in developed and even developing countries around the world are being accommodated into the mainstream with a supportive environment, this is not the case in Bhutan.
People with disability in Bhutan effectively live in the shadows and the sidelines of society, and except for a few organisations and some committed people, most are either ignorant or insensitive to the issue.
This attitude is reflected in the fact that the Parliament since 2010 has failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) placing Bhutan in an ignoble list of 10 countries in the world not doing so, versus the 182 countries that have ratified it.
In all honesty, the appearance of people with disability in Bhutan is mainly limited to photo opportunities when they are rolled out once a year to listen to some VIPs speech, and they also become an emotional prop in it. After that they are forgotten.
Starting from the hospitals, even JDWNRH lacks the basics like proper doctors in this field, speech therapists for children, adequate trained staff etc. The RCSC and the MoH cannot be bothered to recruit them too.
In the field of education, Bhutan does not have adequate number of special education need (SEN) schools and teachers.
Even SEN schools struggle as they do not have trained professional staff and make do on the basis of the passion of their teachers. The limited facilities are also mainly in Thimphu.
The curriculum for students with disability should be different and more in step with the times, but that is not the case.
While schools at least have provision for SEN there is no such facility in the tertiary institutes of the country, and so parents often have to take their children home after class 10 or 12 since there is no further educational scope.
Most Bhutanese, by nature, are kind hearted and will help when asked for it, but only kindness will not do for people with disability. They require a long-term and focused commitment from the leadership and society to engage with them and help them by not only providing the right environment but also the right facilities.
A problem with disability in Bhutan is it is everyone’s business and yet no one’s business, and a lot of support for it is limited to lip support during occasions.
A recent study found that around 21 percent of Bhutanese children aged 2 to 9 years suffer from varying degrees of various disabilities.
The question now is if we are willing to allow so many who need help to go into the shadows and not reach their true potential, or we reach out and help them achieve their true potential to become independent and contribute to the society and nation.
“Abled does not mean enabled. Disabled does not mean less abled.” Khang Kijarro Nguyen