In 2018 Nepal’s first accessible trekking trail opened in Pokhara. The 1.3km trail complete with accessible bathrooms, regular signage and handrails has been praised by disability activists as the beginning of a more inclusive Nepal, especially with regards to tourism. The opening of the trail has raised some questions regarding accessibility in Nepal, what the issues are and what other provisions need to be made to make the country a more appealing tourist destination for the elderly and disabled.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), disability has three dimensions. Impairment (loss of a limb, vision or memory loss), activity limitation (difficulty hearing, walking, seeing or problem solving) and participation restrictions in necessary daily activities like socialising. As of the 2011 census, Nepal’s disability rate was 1.94%, although, due to a number of factors including the 2015 earthquake, it is thought that this figure is much higher. Unfortunately, there is some prejudice surrounding disability in Nepal. Religion plays a huge role within Nepalese society and many people’s attitudes and opinions are influenced by their spirituality. The trials and tribulations of one’s current life is often attributed to one’s actions in their past life, and as a result being disabled is viewed as a punishment from the Gods for your sins. This stigma means that individuals tend to hide their disability and those who cannot do so face certain social pressures. A lack of suitable infrastructure and medical facilities means that the differently abled face many barriers – both physical and socio-cultural – within Nepalese society.
Things, however, are changing. In the 2015 Nepalese Constitution discrimination based on religion, race, origin, caste, gender, sexual orientation, physical impairment/conditions etc. was rendered illegal. As a result of this, several rights and provisions have been introduced for disabled citizens, these include: an entitlement to free education, a 50% discount on public transportation and a commitment to making public infrastructure more accessible to those with disabilities. Whilst these changes are great theory, many have not yet come to fruition and there are questions being raised about how much Government support the disabled community are actually receiving. However, the introduction of these policies represents an important attitude shift that shows that the issue of inclusivity with regards to disability is being considered and acted upon. Perhaps signalling further change.