There are a number of government agencies working on demography but their data on the total number of persons with disabilities (PWD) varies widely making it hard for anyone to rely on.

According to the 2011 national census, 1.4 per cent of the population has disabilities while a 2010 household survey conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) suggests the percentage is 9.6 and a similar survey in 2016 shows the rate at 6.94 per cent.

Speakers at a consultation workshop titled “Disability Intervention in the 8th Five-Year Plan” held at the conference room of the National Economic Council (NEC) on Thursday highlighted the difference in survey findings, said a press release.

General Economic Division (GED) of the Planning Commission, Center for Disability in Development (CDD) and Christian Blind Mission (CBM) jointly organised it.

Planning Commission’s GED member (secretary) Md Kawser Ahmed attended the event as the chief guest while the division’s chief (additional secretary) Md Mafidul Islam presided over it.

CBM country director Muhammad Mushfiqul Wara, CDD executive director AHM Noman Khan, high officials of different government agencies, and representatives of non-government organisations and organisations run by PWDs participated in the discussion.

A keynote paper was also presented at the workshop.

Quoting the World Health Organization’s Global Report on Disabilities-2011, the keynote paper said 15.6 per cent of people of the world are affected by disabilities, 80 per cent of whom live in the developing countries. However, the on-going disability detection survey by the Department of Social Services has identified 2,433,723 PWDs until 8 December 2021.

Referring to different surveys, the keynote paper revealed the lack of opportunities for PWDs for the flourishing of their talents and their inadequate access to employment are having a negative impact on the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country.

According to a 2019 World Bank report, Bangladesh’s cost of disabilities is estimated at about 1.74 per cent of its GDP.

Speakers at the event said though the overall condition of the PWDs in Bangladesh has changed over the last two decades and the matter is being considered in the national development agenda, expected results regarding them have not been achieved yet.

They said most of the PWDs in Bangladesh do not have required access to healthcare, education, employment, empowerment and socio-political activities.

The speakers said PWDs are deprived of health services due to infrastructural barriers and service providers’ lack of skill. Problems in communications, lack of awareness at the society and family levels, lack of necessary instruments and lack of proper training of teachers have appeared as barriers to the inclusion of disabled children in education, they added.

Several suggestions were made at the workshop. They include enhancing the participation of PWDs, particularly women, in the formulation and execution of development plans; building public facilities following universal construction rules to ensure PWDs’ easy access there; and making software and hardware at public-private initiatives to facilitate PWDs’ easy use of technology contents.

Chief guest Md Kawser Ahmed, in his speech, appreciated the proposals made by the discussants and laid emphasis on easy access of PWDs to everywhere in society.

He suggested the inclusion of a chapter on disabilities in textbooks at the primary and secondary levels and teaching sign language to teachers for enhancing awareness about disabilities.