The theme of this year's International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) -Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality - obliquely refers to the fact that there are miles to go before society becomes mindful of their special needs. The 27th version of the IDPD event and the 20th National Day of Persons with Disabilities are proof enough that such initiatives are still passing the phase of their infancy. The world communities have come to the realisation of the need for taking care of such challenged children quite late and Bangladesh took seven years to recognise this as a national event. Today, the attitude towards physical handicap has largely undergone a shift from aversion to empathy. Not many people do consider physical disabilities a result of a curse of the providence but yet they fall short of sharing their social responsibilities in order to ease and improve the challenged people's life.
Usually educational institutions take the lead in creating facilities for the physically challenged. The University of Dhaka has come up with a policy instrument for the disabled students only after one such student has been carried on his mother's lap to the exam hall for admission test in which he appeared successfully. No other university can be called physically challenged-friendly. Even educational institutions at the primary, secondary and higher secondary levels do not have special facilities for such students pursuing studies. They are thus doubly disadvantaged in educational institutions unmindful of their special needs. This explains why the physically handicapped students fail to realise their potential. Not many are convinced that the physically challenged can compete with others when it comes to studies, excellence in fine arts, research and experiments or intellectual pursuits. Some autistic children are born with special talents.
Those who doubt the power of mind should follow the life of Stephen Hawking, the greatest physicist of the new millennium. The specially gifted children lose their way in uncaring social wilderness. That a blind person with special musical talent is found to beg is not the rarest of sights. Hard of hearing Beethoven showed musical genius at its best. Had Stephen Hawking and Beethoven not been born in caring and appreciating Western societies, chances were really slim for them to become what they were. Clearly, a psychological sea-change will be needed for a talent hunt among the physically handicapped.
It is against this background that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's assurance of policy formulation for providing the physically challenged, ethnic groups and the underprivileged with government jobs comes as a possible remedy for the neglect suffered by such groups in society. What the premier has hinted at is reserved positions for such people under a system like that of quota. Indeed the physically challenged people stand to benefit from such special considerations in case of government employment. But it must be noted that they must as well be prepared for such jobs and have transport facilities for movement. The initial preparation can be accomplished by creating facilities for them in educational institutions including in the highest seats of learning and then making special arrangement for their training.