This column was published in Business Bhutan on 24th October 2015.
I was in an elevator in my third week in Arizona with two girls in wheelchairs. Just a few weeks ago, I shared the same elevator with a boy, and didn’t realise he was visually impaired until he got off. Differently-abled people are not “handicapped” here. They are not deprived of mobility and access unlike many differently-abled people in Bhutan. Parking, restaurants, shops, offices, streets, bathrooms, and public transport are all accessible by differently-abled people.
It is enshrined in our Constitution that, “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal and effective protection of the law and shall not be discriminated against on the grounds of race, sex, language, religion, politics or other status.” If only the beauty of the written word was so easily translated into action. All of us can wax eloquent on the magnificence of the Constitution, but how many of us genuinely allow this written word to not only influence but also inspire our decisions?
Yes, policymakers. This question is directed at you. I am sure you are familiar with “the Americans with Disabilities Act,” and its history. This America that I write about today, was not the same America a few years ago. It took many years of resistance (against and for the Act), several more of persistence, and quite a few differently-abled people dragging themselves/ crawling up the steps of the Capitol Building to get America to where she is today- a nation of indiscriminate opportunity and access for the differently-abled.
We have no proper records of differently-abled people in the country as of October 2015. The only record we have is that of children living with a disability that was last compiled in 2012 by the National Statistics Bureau. According to the NSB, Bhutan’s population had just crossed 7,00,000 in 2011; of that almost 1,50,000 children were living with a disability. These children (NSB, 2012) will grow up. Quickly. But what will they look forward to? An overwhelming lack of accessibility and equal opportunity?
It is also enshrined in our Constitution that, “A Bhutanese citizen shall foster tolerance, mutual respect and spirit of brotherhood amongst all the people of Bhutan transcending religious, linguistic, regional or sectional diversities.”
We have failed miserably, so far, in “fostering mutual respect and a spirit of brotherhood amongst people of Bhutan transcending sectional diversities.” America enacted her Disabilities Act in 1990. It is not too late for us. We are still growing, still building. Let us grow, and build for togetherness. We cannot leave anyone behind. Not in this land of Gross National Happiness.