Written by Pavani Hapuarachchi
03 Dec, 2020 | 7:57 pm
COLOMBO (News 1st): Today (Dec. 03) marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), which aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities.
This year’s IDPD is marked under the theme, ‘Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 World’.
Sri Lanka entered the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) as a signatory on 30th March 2007 and ratified it on 8th February 2016.
In line with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, News 1st spoke to a panel of experts on ‘Disability Rights in Sri Lanka: Mainstreaming the Discourse’
According to Niluka Gunawardena, who is a Disability Researcher & Educator, Sri Lanka’s view towards Persons with Disabilities predominantly remains charity-oriented.
“We have a very charity-oriented view of disability. A lot of the reasoning behind that is through the Karmic discourse. Persons with disabilities have done something bad in their past life and hence this is the natural justice that they need to play out in their lives. When we have an approach like that, there is no incentive for us to even think about inclusion or social justice; because as far as we are concerned this is natural justice,” Gunawardena elaborated on Monday (Nov. 30) while joining News 1st’s ‘Face the Nation programme’ on TV1.
Further commenting Niluka Gunawardena emphasized that “In order to have a rights-based approach to disability; we first have to realize that this is not an individual problem. It’s not someone’s personal tragedy. It is a social issue. So that mindset in itself has to change, from some kind of individualized issue to a social issue, an issue of barriers. That paradigm shift from an individual problem, to one of a socio-political issue, to one of participation and empowerment is what we really need if we are to even think about rights in terms of persons with disabilities.”
In 2016, UNICEF Sri Lanka commissioned the ‘Learning Disabilities in Sri Lanka’ report, and it found that 23.5% of children aged 5-14 with disabilities are excluded from mainstream education, 55.4% of the disabled aged 15-19, and 86% of the disabled aged 20-24 are not engaged in any educational activity or vocational training.
Commenting on the matter, Attorney-at-Law Lasanthi Daskon, said in Sri Lanka a majority of children with disabilities are deprived of their right to education over many factors ranging from lack of accessibility to social concerns.
“A majority of the children with disabilities are left out of education. In an education system like ours where we are target driven, for example, the grade 05 scholarship, it is very difficult to fit in a student with a disability and provide that student the accommodation that is required,” Daskon elaborated on Monday (Nov. 30), while joining News 1st’s ‘Face the Nation’ programme on TV1.
According to Attorney-at-Law, Lasanthi Daskon, the prominent marginalization of the disabled community in the country even in the education system, which is obliged to ensure the Right to Education of every child, has also denied inclusive education for children with disabilities.
“Is society receptive? Do the principals enroll students with disabilities into school? Are the teachers prepared? Are other parents prepared to have a student with a disability in the classroom? They say that their “NORMAL” child will adopt the behaviors of the disabled child. So this is one of the fears expressed by parents of non-disabled people. It is very complex. It is not just about access or the target-driven education system. It’s a complexity of factors that keep children with disabilities away from school,” Attorney-at-Law, Lasanthi Daskon further explained.
She reiterated, “We are not doing enough to give access to children with disabilities to education, but it is also not simple. It has to be a reform, there has to be a reform in the education system. It has to be a reform in the way we look at disability; the way we respond to disability.”
News1st’s policy has always been LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND.
The time is right then, to create a paradigm shift in society from welfare to participatory inclusion, human dignity, and empowerment to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities. It’s our collective responsibility.
For the full discussion on ‘Face the Nation’: https://youtu.be/0Nn0VUwhdHo
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