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Disability, Technology and Sustainable Development: A Socio-cultural Interpretation

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  • Synopsis: Article depicts disability conditions in Bangladesh including types, causes and its socio-cultural construction - Published: 2014-12-02. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Juwel Rana at University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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"Women are sometimes scolded by the family of father- in-law for giving birth of disabled child and also seen as curse by Allah due to her sin in South Asian countries."

Disability need not be an obstacle to success. I have had motor neurone disease for practically all my adult life. But I realize that I am very lucky, in many ways. My success in theoretical physics has ensured that I am supported to live a worthwhile life. It is very clear that the majority of people with disabilities in the world have an extremely difficult time with everyday survival, let alone productive employment and personal fulfillment - Professor Stephen W Hawking

Disability refers to the physical, mental and psychological impairments of persons that exclude them from participating in the mainstream social activities. According to the WHO, 'Disability is the umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions, referring to the negative aspects of the interaction between an individual (with a health condition) and that individual's contextual factors (environmental and personal factors)'. Disability includes difficulties encountered in body function like paralysis; difficulties in executing activities e.g. walking; and problems with involvement in any area of life such as facing discrimination in employment or transportation. Disability is an important social agenda of informational society ensuring sustainable development with the revolutionary usages of technology in our daily life. We can understand this phenomena depicting disability condition of Bangladesh including types, causes and its socio-cultural construction.

In 1976, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 1981 as the International Year of Disabled Persons and 1983-1992 the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons for implementation of plans at the national, regional and international levels, with an emphasis on equalization of opportunities, rehabilitation and prevention of disabilities. The theme of International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2014 is 'Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology' focusing the role of technology in disaster risk reduction and emergency responses; creating enabling working environments and disability-inclusive sustainable development goals.

The first ever World report on disability, by WHO and the World Bank, suggests that more than a billion people in the world today experience disability. In Bangladesh, the crude disability rate per thousand population, according to the SVRS 2011, is 9.93 with 11.10 for male and 8.77 for female (BBS 2013). The rate was 9.36, 9.11, 9.99, and 8.96 for both male and female in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 respectively; and it denotes the upward trend of increasing the number of disabled people in Bangladesh. This report reveals that disability rate for male is more than that of female by 26.57% as well as this rate in rural area is more than that of urban area for both male and female. The people with disabilities are higher with the higher age and the highest rate of disabilities is 13.91-19.37% in Rangpur division, Bangladesh. The major types disabilities prevalent in Bangladesh are blind, night blind, deaf, mentally retarded (Cerebral palsy), Kustha, lame (Achondroplasia), Dhabal, Goitre and short in memory while deaf, CerebralPalsy and lame are highest proportion of disability categories. These large numbers of disabled people are excluded from the mainstream society even economic sphere. We have to include them into the conventional social structure rather than making them dependent on the state supports or welfare benefits. The interaction of health conditions, personal factors, and environmental factors differs significantly in the life of people who experienced different types of disabilities. The mentioned types of disabilities, prevalent in Bangladesh, result from accident, illness, aging, by born or hereditary and many other reasons. People are mostly suffering from different kinds of disabilities by born which could not be prevented but the reduction of sufferings is not quite impossible.

Development and disabilities are interdependent phenomenon: disability may increase the poverty situation, and the poverty may increase the risk of disability. On the other hand, it is not only the personal problem but also the social problem as well as collective identity. The disability may worsen the social, economic well-being and poverty through different channels including the adverse impact on education, employment, earnings and expenses related to disability. Disable children can't attend school, having low opportunities even adult lose their productivity as well as employment opportunities. People with disabilities are not able to get benefit from development and get rid from poverty situation due to discrimination in employment, limited access to transport, and lack of access to resources to promote self-employment and livelihood activities. Families with disabled people have to bear extra costs associated with medication, care, special food and nutrition even they face hardship to manage sufficient food, housing, clean water etc.

All people with disabilities are not equally excluded from mainstream that result from several personal factors with differences in gender, age, socioeconomic status, sexuality, ethnicity, or cultural heritage. For example, a boy, same to my age at my village, is disable whose parents economic condition was not good enough as my family. Though I don't have strong economic background, I am post-graduate managing my own educational expenditures due to my physical capability. He may also be like me but he was not able only for his physical inability. On the other hand, Professor Stephen W. Hawking is still alive and continuing his scientific research successfully though he is suffering from motor neurone disease since his early childhood. Women with disabilities experience the combined disadvantages associated with gender as well as disability, and People who experience mental health conditions or intellectual impairments appear to be more disadvantaged in many settings than those who experience physical or sensory impairments. The pioneer sociologists who provide sociological interpretation of disabilities, Colin Barnes, Mike Oliver, Len Barton and others, said about social model: disability as collective/ social issue. Oliver (1996) said disabled people were excluded from the labor market while individual or biomedical model: bodily abnormality is the cause of individual suffering. The analysis of social reaction toward disadvantaged disabled people such as people with impairments was central for sociologists working within the traditions of symbolic interactions during the 1960s emphasizing upon meaning, identity and the process of labelling the explored the relationship between disablement and socially proscribed behavior. According to this perspective, persons with disabilities are labeled by 'altering psychic structure' through the mechanisms of deviance creation and the labelling process. In our society, we usually stigmatized disabled people as dwarf, blind, Othorbo and in many other ways that has been theorized by Goffman (1963) as social exclusion with stigmatization of individual: the application of stigma is an issue of exploitation and oppression rather than avoidance. Women are sometimes scolded by the family of father- in-law for giving birth of disabled child and also seen as curse by Allah due to her sin in South Asian countries. The exclusion of disabled persons seen as cultural phenomena emphasizing on the disability-engendering role played by cultural ideas, always negative, about people with impairment. Foucauldian notions of the self-disciplining of the body in the shadow of powerful medical and welfarist discourses on impairment are seen to offer ways of understanding the subordination experienced by disabled people (Price and Shildrick 1998).

The process of marginalization, oppression, discrimination, exclusion, or in other words disablement, that affects people with impairments. We can socially include persons with disabilities in mainstream workforce adverting employment policies in favor of disable people. The United Nation has initiated Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to preserve rights for disabled people viewing persons with disabilities as 'subjects' with claiming rights and making decision as well as providing consent as an active member of civil society as well as including disabled people in MDG agenda. Sustainable economic development in Bangladesh is impossible excluding these large number of people with disabilities that emphasizes the social inclusion of those disabled people in our mainstream society through different types of effective measures.

In Bangladesh, persons with disabilities are getting some benefits such as quota in educational institutions, job sectors etc. which measures were taken by different governments in different periods though these are not sufficient for their proper inclusion in policy level. The present Awami League government have also taken some initiatives for persons with disabilities specially establishing cochlear implementation center for autistic child in BSMMU. The rapid development of information and communication technology creates new forms of employment, organizations, medication, health care system etc. that could help us a lot to include persons with disabilities in employment policies even they can be able with the blessings of medicines, treatment facilities such as cosmetic surgery, genetic screening, limb lengthening, cochlear implants, conductive education and so forth. So, each government including Bangladesh should take some effective policies to ensure sustainable economic development that could only be possible undertaking initiatives associated to latest information and communication technology with sign language teaching in schools, barrier removal, awareness raising and legislation for equal opportunities.


........(2013), Sample Vital Registration System 2011 Dhaka: BBS

Barnes, Colin et al. (2012), Disability Studies Today (ed.), Cambridge, UK: Polity Press

Roulstone, Alan and Barnes, Colin (2005), Working Futures: Disabled People, Policy and Social Inclusion (ed.), University of Bristol: The Policy Press

Swain, John and et. al. Disabling Barriers-Enabling Environments (ed.), London: SAGE Publications Ltd

Barnes, Colin and Oliver, Mike (1993). Disability: A Sociological Phenomenon Ignored by Sociologists.

............ (2011). World Report on Disability 2011. Geneva: WHO Press


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