Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Key messages conveyed during the observation of International White Cane Safety Day 2019

Group photo of visually impaired persons in Thimphu participating in a public awareness walk

As a visually impaired person, I have realized that one of the biggest challenges faced by persons with disabilities in Bhutan today is the lack of accessibility. The public infrastructures such as banks, hospitals, shopping complexes and other public offices are not as accessible and inclusive as they should be. Besides, the public spaces are also not safe enough for us to walk independently. The open drains without covers or fences, high sidewalks without guardrails, steep staircases without handrails and uneven footpaths/stairs are some of the barriers that continue to pose a danger to our safety in the towns. Yet nobody seems to be concerned. On the roads, the situation is worse for us. The motorists hardly care to slow down or stop their cars to let pedestrians with disabilities to walk across. If we don’t try to break these barriers today, the community of persons with disabilities will continue to remain behind the wall, disconnected from the mainstream society. This was the key message I and my visually impaired friends conveyed during the observation of International White Cane Safety Day in Thimphu on 15th October 2019.

In the morning, more than 40 visually impaired people living in Thimphu gathered at the old taxi parking for a public awareness walk. The walk was initiated as part of our effort to sensitize and educate the general public on the significance of White Cane, a mobility tool for the blind. The white cane helps us safely navigate through the obstacles in the environment. It is the symbol of our disability and independence.

We were divided into three smaller groups, each led by a low-vision member. The groups took three different routes to our final meeting point at the Centennial Park. My group walked through the middle of the town right up the Royal Textile Academy and then to the Centennial Park. It was a great fun interacting with people from different walks of life on the way, sensitizing them on the meaning and purpose of our White Cane. We also sensitized them on the needs and rights of persons with disabilities in general and how they can play a role in creating a safe environment for all of us. We told them that if they ever see someone with a white cane on the road while driving, they should understand that he or she is blind and that they should slow down or stop their cars to let that person safely navigate through. We told them that if all motorists could respect the needs and rights of persons with disabilities, we don’t even need a guide while going outdoors. We can live an independent life with the help of our white cane.

At the Centennial Park, we interacted amongst ourselves for hours, sharing our experiences from the walk. The interaction ended with lunch.

In the evening, we staged a cultural show at the RUB auditorium for policymakers and senior government officials as part of the awareness program. In between the dances and songs, we also sensitized them on the needs and rights of persons with disabilities.

The best part of the day however was the blessings and wishes we received from His Majesty the King. The presence of senior officials from His Majesty Secretariat in the evening program itself brought us immense joy and happiness. The dinner and the taxi service for transportation were all arranged by His Majesty Secretariat as per the wishes of His Majesty the King. It was the greatest gift we could ever receive from the Golden Throne.

Despite being born with a disability, we are very lucky to have been born in Bhutan where we continue to enjoy the love and support of our great leaders. With little more effort and commitment from policymakers, concerned authorities and the public, we can definitely make a difference. Unless we create enabling conditions for persons with disabilities, we would continue to be deprived of our rights to come out of our closets and participate meaningfully in the mainstream society. When we have the blessings of His Majesty the King, I don’t think it would be too difficult for our fellow-citizens to think for us and help us make our rights real.

No comments:

Post a Comment