Danita Topcagic

Danita Topcagic (Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organization - BERDO): Danita was raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but moved to the United States with her family at the age of fourteen as a refugee. She is passionate about humanitarian work and earned her BA in international relations from University of Missouri – Columbia. Danita received her MA in global finance, trade and economic integration with a focus in international development from University of Denver.

Disability at BERDO

08 Jul

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Ten out of thirty five BERDO’s employees are disabled. Two of them tell me about their life with disability and what lead to these conditions. These stories also give me a sense of what happens to other 650 million people in the world who live their life with disability.


Ms. Firoza Khatun works at BERDO as an assistant and she is quite lucky to have a job and an income.

Ms. Firoza Khatun was three years old when she contracted poliovirus leaving her lower body underdeveloped. Her parents didn’t take her to hospital on time because they didn’t think this was curable, and she never had any rehabilitation. She managed to finish high school, but she had to wait three years to find someone to assist her on the way to school because school was far away. Firoza also studied two years at the university, but didn’t finish due to memory problems. She waited for a number of years before finding a job, and at no point did she receive any assistance from government. Now she is an assistant at BERDO and is able to live alone.

Another disabled employee of BERDO is Mr. Unusur Rahman who teaches at BERDO’s Blind School. He is visually impaired since age two due to typhoid fever. His parents didn’t take him to the hospital because they didn’t think anything was abnormal with his high fever. He didn’t visit a trained medical doctor until eight years old, which drastically reduced his chances of recovering his sight. His parents kept visiting the village doctors, who have no medical training. He started primary school when he was twelve years old because his parents weren’t aware that there are schools for children who are visually impaired. He finished high school and spent two years at the university but didn’t finish due to financial
difficulties. He is married to a visually impaired person, who lost sight also due to typhoid fever. His wife managed to finish university, but isn’t able to find a job for three years now.


Mr. Unusur Rahman is a teacher at BERDO’s blind school – the School of Happy World.

Firoza and Unusur are two of many people that I have met who are suffering from a disability. They are two out of 650 million people in the world who are living with disabilities. 520 million of these people (which is 80%) live in rural areas in the developing countries. 426 million of them live below poverty lines (Source: ILO). One can easily say that poor people are disproportionately disabled, and disabled people are disproportionately poor (Source: Akhil Paul). Furthermore, most of these impairments are caused by malnutrition and poor sanitation, and therefore could have been prevented with some basic services. Could have been, but were not!

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) was put in place as a human rights instrument with a social development dimension to protect rights of PWDs and to help break this vicious cycle of poverty and disabilities. The UN Convention makes a paradigm shift in approaches to PWDs – moving away from viewing PWDs as objects of charity towards viewing them as subjects with rights who are capable of making decisions about their own life and taking care of themselves. Eighty-eight countries ratified the UN Convention, including
Bangladesh, but as I have discovered through research and spending time here, there are laws in Bangladesh to ensure rights for persons with disabilities, but very little action.

Bangladesh government enacted Disability Welfare Act (Act of 2001) to emphasize the need to identify all persons with disabilities and provide them with identity cards which would help them in accessing public and private amenities/utilities. Seven years later, disabled employees at BERDO still don’t have these identity cards. The Act led to a creation of a National Foundation for Development of the Disabled Persons. The Act also covers these areas: prevention, curative treatment, education, health care services, rehabilitation and employment, transportation, social securities and self-help organizations.

Ministry of Social Welfare has been the leading ministry catering for all issues of people with disabilities in Bangladesh since early 1960s, including the areas of education, employment and rehabilitation. Many argue that Social Welfare Ministry isn’t equipped to handle issues such as education, rehabilitation and employment of the PWDs, and that these areas demand an active involvement of other ministries and departments. Many advocate that the people of rank within the conglomerate were haphazard in their efforts. Furthermore, the country has not yet integrated concerns of PWD in any of its generic laws other than the Welfare Act which makes me question how will the PWDs get those 10% of the jobs promised by the government (a part of the Welfare Disability Act – 2001)?

Also I am questioning Ministry’s budget allocation and project’s priority as I glanced through their website and found projects they are funding, and projects that are under revenue budget. To give examples, there are three projects funded by the government concerning PWDs: (1) Establishment of Bangladesh Rehabilitation Institute for the Disabled which reported zero cumulative physical progress, but 5,950,000 taka ($87,500) were released for this project; (2) Establishment of six vocational training institute in six divisions for the orphan and disabled children which reported 5% cumulative physical progress while 84,681,000 taka ($1,245,309) was released; and (3) Establishment of Training and Rehabilitation Center for Distress Youth and Disabled reported 40% progress and 14,900,000 taka ($219,118) released (Source: Ministry of Social Welfare, Bangladesh ). Let me point out that two out of these three projects are not solely focusing on PWDs, but are combined with other marginalized groups therefore it is hard to access how much attention is devoted to PWDs alone.

When I asked disabled employees at BERDO what change have they noticed since Bangladesh enacted the Disability Welfare Act in 2001, they reported there was no improvement in their life or any assistance offered to them. Another common argument I heard was that they don’t want charity and welfare services, but they want what is rightfully theirs such as access to education, rehabilitation programs and possibilities of employment. Just as the approach discussed in the UN Convention, disabled persons in Bangladesh are waiting when that approach will be the main focus here. They are patient because they know the country is strained for resources, but they are hopeful it will be in the near future.

Posted By Danita Topcagic

Posted Jul 8th, 2008

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