On Global Accessibility Awareness Day which falls this year on 19 May, we speak with Manish Prasai, administrative manager of a CBM partner - the National Federation of the Disabled Nepal.
Can you give details about your organization?
National Federation of the Disabled Nepal (NFDN) is a national cross disability network of persons with disabilities. This organization is working on the status of Non Governmental Orgnaization (NGO) under the Institutional enrollment Act of Nepal. NFDN is representing 335 member organizations (most of them are Disabled Peoples' Organizations) across the country. NFDN (established in 1993) as the pioneer of the disability rights movement in Nepal, has been working for promoting the rights of person with disabilities in Nepal through its four major key working strategies –Advocacy, Awareness, Capacity Building and Networking & Collaboration. The role of NFDN has been observed as very influential, particularly in bringing desired changes in the policies, laws and program of government from disability point of views as well as the mobilization of DPOs in advocacy, lobby and representation in the decision making process. Recently, the role of NFDN was observed very much crucial for mainstreaming some important rights of persons with disabilities in the new constitution of Nepal.
Can you explain how you join the organisation and what is your current role?
I have been working in NFDN as the key responsible person to oversee all the administration, projects and programs of NFDN. Currently, my position in NFDN is Administrative Manager and this is my second position in NFDN. Before, from 2003 to 2008, I worked in this organization as the project coordinator of a project supported by DPOD-Denmark. During 2009 to 2012, I worked as the information and advocacy officer and trainer in Rresource Center for Rehabilitation and Development (RCRD) – Nepal; the renowned resource and training center on disability in Nepal. Since 2013, I have been working with NFDN. 18 years ago, after my master degree in Business Administration (MBA), I suddenly decided to work in disability sector when I visited one organization named "Biratnagar CBR" in my home town – Biratnagar. There, I interacted with the children with disabilities, I was touched by their problems and issues and determined to work for the rights of persons with disabilities. That organization works in CBR approach and focuses on children with disabilities. I entered there as a board member and later on I engaged myself in the local member DPOs of NFDN. In 2003, I was selected as the program coordinator of NFDN's central office to lead a multi year project supported by DPOD-Denmark.
Can you describe your work in the field of accessibility in Nepal? What are your main responsibilities?
When I understood "disability" as the consequences of different types of barriers rather than only a health issue, I started to teach myself about accessibility, universal design and chain of access in the society. I got a very new perspective to explain disability from social and human rights point of view. I found all disabled persons as a huge work force ready to contribute to the society with their full potential and capacities, but (unfortunately), living in a cage of different types of barriers.
I started sharing my knowledge about accessibility through training sessions, presentations and articles. I wanted to contribute to the government for developing minimum basic national standards for accessibility. When I was in RCRD Nepal, I started advocating for such guidelines through that organization in joint collaboration with NFDN and Independent Living Center-Kathmandu. The ministry of women, children and social welfare was ready to coordinate and lead the process. On behalf of the organization, I worked as the key persons to prepare the draft of the accessibility guideline for the government. The draft guidelines went through different course of consultations and finally passed from the cabinet in 2012. The provisions mentioned in the guidelines might not be good enough to ensure all the principles of universal design but we are proud that we have set a strong milestone on institutionalizing it. The role of NFDN to carry out various consultation meetings, discussion and to get the guidelines passed from government is very important.
What have been the challenges faced in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake in terms of accessibility?
Basically, because of the inaccessible nature of public places, government buildings, private apartments and the hazardous situation of infrastructures, many people with disabilities, elderly people and even the children faced problems applying safety measures during the earthquake. The open spaces were supposed to be safe during such horrible situations but were not accessible to all. In relief distribution, many problems were discovered as persons with disabilities did not get proper access to the site due to the physical barriers. Many of them were deprived from immediate humanitarian support they were supposed to have. In shelter management, most of the persons with disabilities faced barriers in accessing WASH facilities such as water taps and toilets since these were not made accessible for them. The children with intellectual disabilities, persons with spinal cord injuries, and severe multiple disabilities had to face the lack of reasonable accommodations in their shelter.
How do you manage to respond to these challenges in the first place?
NFDN had not much knowledge and expertise to respond disaster. We had only implemented very few activities such as day-long training for persons with disabilities on applying minimum safety measures in earthquake situation, with the support of UNICEF and Red Cross.
After the earthquake, the first thing we did, we tried to get information on the safety of our family members, staff members, board members. Gradually, we came in contact with the focal persons of member organizations. They provided us about the vulnerable situation of persons with disabilities; the problems and barriers that they are facing in the aftermath of earthquake. Immediately, we issued an appeal from the national public radio network, "Radio Nepal," requesting the government and humanitarian organizations to give priority to the persons with disabilities, elderly people, children and pregnant women in rescue and relief work. We started to collect the data of people affected by the earthquake and got information about their problems through various sources and means like phone calls, messaging, social networks, emails, websites and etc. The president of NFDN met the Home Minister to hand over the appeal and requested the minister to give priority to persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in relief and shelter management.
Can you talk about the partnership with CBM?
Similarly, NFDN organized a meeting with different humanitarian organizations, INGOs working on disability and some key national DPOs to raise issues of persons with disabilities. NFDN shared the data and information about the situation. CBM took NFDN's agenda seriously and asked to work jointly. CBM also provided knowledge us about the cluster system to work on disaster response. We started joint advocacy to ensure our participation and representation in the cluster system. Finally, NFDN became a member of protection cluster. This platform gave us a good opportunity to intervene in the high level of decision-making process. Further, CBM shared us about some of its experiences of working with disaster-affected persons with disabilities and elderly people in Philippines. This information sharing gave an idea to NFDN to work on disaster response. We immediately developed a program to work in three districts (Kavre, Sindhupalchok and Makwanpur) and CBM accepted that. The program was to collect the data of disaster affected persons with disabilities and elderly people, analyse and categorised their problems and issues, seek the possibility to provide immediate services and humanitarian support in local level and link them to the services through referral system, advocacy, lobby and information sharing. This program was effective and helped to include the excluded persons with disabilities and elderly people in the mainstream humanitarian services with special treatment for special needs as far as possible.
NFDN was encouraged to work in other 14 affected districts in the same modality and proposed with UNICEF. UNICEF agreed to work through NFDN in the same modality with special focus to the disabled children. In this way, we tried our best to respond the disaster-affected persons with disabilities.
And now NFDN is working with CBM to ensure accessibility and universal design principles are included into reconstruction activities?
Yes! Currently, NFDN is working to develop a project related to accessibility and on behalf of the organization I am leading the drafting and consultation process for the project. This project has an aim to make government authorities and other relevant stakeholders responsible for ensuring accessibility standards in the public places not only as mentioned in the guidelines but to go beyond that on following the international practice of making services, products, public place accessible to all and as far as possible in line with the principles of universal design. We are preparing to implement this project in close cooperation with Kathmandu Metropolitan City office and partnership with CBM. This project includes three major components –
a) Awareness and sensitization on accessibility and universal design
b) Capacity Building of government authorities and other stakeholders and
c) Implementation of accessibility standards in reconstruction and new construction activities.