by Paula Sotnik
I recently traveled to Nepal to learn and share information about disability inclusion. Here’s the first part of an interview I gave to the Nepali nonprofit NAPD Nepal. The second part will follow in another blog post.
This interview will appear in NAPD Nepal’s annual publication. Some of the language has been adapted here for clarity and length.
1. Could you please share the purpose of your visit to Nepal?
Our organization, the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI), had the great opportunity to host an IREX Community Solutions Program fellow, Sagar Prasain, from Nepal last fall. This initiative was funded by the U.S. Department of State.
The ICI is a research and training center at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Our work supports the rights of children and adults with disabilities to participate in all aspects of the community.
Mr. Prasain’s goal was to learn about U.S. disability law, policies, and practices. He also educated our staff about what it’s like to live with a disability in Nepal. Mr. Prasain and I developed a project to address some of the access issues in Nepal, through his newly formed nongovernmental organization, Sangai Hami. I was fortunate to obtain a travel grant to Nepal to continue our work.
My main objectives were these:
- Provide a training (to participants with and without disabilities) on access, accommodations, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
- Learn as much as I could about what it’s like to live with a disability in Nepal.
- Learn about advocacy and disability services by visiting many disability organizations and talking to leaders in the disability community.
My trip to Nepal was a life-changing experience. I am truly grateful to everyone who spent time and educated me. Also, I am grateful for the U.S. Department of State grant awarded to the IREX Community Solutions Program, which made Mr. Prasain’s fellowship and my visit to Nepal possible.
I truly hope to return to this beautiful and embracing country one day in the future and continue to work with my new friends to achieve a fully inclusive Nepal.
2. How did you find the disability movement in Nepal?
With very few resources, a group of dedicated people who are passionate about equality and inclusion, and possess a strong and consistent voice, are working to fully include individuals with disabilities in all aspects of their communities. From the leadership of the National Federation of the Disabled Nepal and the National Association of the Physically Disabled Nepal, to the dedicated mothers of children with Down syndrome who started the Down Syndrome Society of Nepal in a mother’s home, these individuals are providing opportunities for individuals with disabilities of all ages to learn, grow, and succeed.
I met with a young woman who left her government position to start a much-needed school: the Special School for Disabled and Rehabilitation Center. This school has successfully transitioned children with autism and other developmental disabilities to regular education classes. And the staff at the National Association of Hard of Hearing and Deafened Nepal are educating schools and parents about hearing disabilities.
I was inspired by the young leaders with disabilities who tirelessly, articulately, and intelligently study best practices, inclusive policies, and strategies for potential application to Nepal. I was also encouraged to see young leaders without disabilities in healthcare, architecture, and the media participate in our training. They developed plans for advancing equal rights, access, and inclusion in their various fields.
So while accessibility issues exist and progressive programs for people with significant disabilities are still in development, the efforts and strength of committed Nepalis, with and without disabilities, will continue the momentum necessary for including all citizens in their communities.
3. What are the major differences you have found between your country and Nepal in terms of protecting and promoting the human rights of people with disabilities?
The United States has a long history of advocacy for equal rights, starting with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act laid the foundation for equal rights for individuals with disabilities, and led to a number of other laws, starting with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. The ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.
These laws would not have been passed without advocacy by individuals with disabilities. One action, called the Capitol Crawl, had a huge impact when the ADA was being debated. Over 60 activists left their wheelchairs and mobility devices and began crawling the 83 stone steps up to the U.S. Capitol building to demonstrate the unfairness and cruelties of inaccessibility.
The ADA was passed shortly after. This strong advocacy action symbolizes how people with disabilities unite, have a voice, and make a difference.
Although Nepal has ratified the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and enacted other laws, such as the Social Welfare Act (1992) and the Education Act (2000), Nepalis with disabilities indicate that these laws and related policies are not implemented, and there are no consequences for noncompliance. More importantly, I learned that these laws mandate what should be “provided” to people with disabilities, with rather than guaranteeing equal rights and full participation.
Also, under these laws, the government has the power to provide access and supports, but is not obligated to ensure equal and accessible resources and services. Thus, governmental authorities may be able to postpone or deny demands for equal conditions due to a lack of resources.
However, it may not be fair to compare countries, and we need to take Nepal’s political history into account. Nepalis have only been able to exercise their democratic rights since 2006. This newly democratic society will continue to set a strong foundation for the future development of rights-based disability policy.