A disabled is defined as ‘a Nepali citizen who is physically or mentally unable or handicapped to perform normal work in daily life. For the purpose of the act, the term ‘disabled person’ also includes a blind, one-eyed, deaf, dumb, dull, crippled, lame, handicapped with one leg broken, handicapped with one hand broken or a feeble minded person.’ This definition, which follows a rigid and exhaustive approach, is in stark contrast to the definition and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to which Nepal is a signatory.

Persons with disabilities in Nepal have been and still are systematically excluded and marginalized from mainstream social, economic and political life. Disability limits one’s movement and participation in a wide range of activities and affects life in a profound way. Without appropriate support, this can easily translate into weak human development, exclusion and violation of key human rights. The lack of accurate data makes it difficult to assess the precise status of marginalization and vulnerability.

In Nepal, an acute lack of trained and skilled professionals in the field of habilitation and rehabilitation is severely impacting medical, psychological, social and vocational support for the disabled community. There are currently only about 400 physiotherapists and eight speech pathologists to serve the entire country. Instead, personal care workers with limited or no formal training are left to care for persons with disabilities. Most of the disabled (69 percent) are supported by their family members. Of households with disabled persons, 31 percent felt that the family had endured a significant economic burden; these were mostly households with people with mental, mobility, vision and similar disabilities. Persons with disabilities are not well integrated into the labour market. Most are either unemployed or discouraged from actively seeking work. Of those working, many are either underemployed or paid below minimum wage, or do work that is below their potential.

The armed conflict has been another key factor that has left many families with disability; children have suffered devastating physical injuries from explosives, often losing limbs or being left blind or deaf. Many such victims have lost the opportunity to go to school and often cannot afford rehabilitative care because of the prohibitive costs involved. With current high inflation, expenses for healthcare and other services have increased rapidly, often affecting people with disabilities more than others as they may have additional costs arising from their disability or impairments.

The Labour Act 1992 provides measures for safety and precautions in the workplace for persons with disabilities. The Social Welfare Act 1992 provides programmes for the welfare of persons with disabilities. The Children’s Act 1992 expanded care to children with disabilities in child welfare homes. The Special Education Policy 1996 incorporated a number of provisions to mainstream persons with disabilities within the education system through arrangements for special education. The Disabled Service National Policy 1996 ensures equal opportunities in all spheres of society by empowering persons with disabilities. The Special Education Policy 2006 promotes inclusive education through the provision of educational materials, teacher training and integrated education for children with disabilities. The Nepal National Building Code 2003 has recognized the special needs of persons with disabilities and sets standards to ensure physical access to public buildings. Nepal ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol in 2010, showing its commitment to adhering to the rights of persons with disabilities. The most recent three-year plan identifies persons with disabilities as one of the country’s excluded groups in need of special support.

In the coming five years, the UN Country Team in Nepal will support community based mental health and other disability support programmes in selected districts to be mainstreamed into activities of daily life, as well as working with the Government to ensure that people with disabilities have meaningful participation in institutions and society.