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Empowering Change: Policy Dialogue on Disability Inclusion in SMART Bangladesh

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The SMART Bangladesh Network (SBN), in association with the Equal Bangladesh Campaign, Sightsavers, a2i, Idea Foundation, and InterContinental Dhaka, hosted a pivotal policy dialogue titled “Empowering Change: Role of a Caucus for Disability Inclusion in SMART Bangladesh.” Held at the Crystal Ballroom, Hotel InterContinental, Dhaka, the event brought together key stakeholders to discuss the integration of disability inclusion into the national SMART Bangladesh agenda by 2041.

The policy dialogue, “Empowering Change: Role of a Caucus for Disability Inclusion in SMART Bangladesh,” held significant importance as it addressed the critical need for inclusivity in the nation’s ambitious vision for 2041. As Bangladesh transitioned into a SMART nation, ensuring that people with disabilities were not left behind was paramount. This event provided a crucial platform for stakeholders from various sectors to discuss and strategize on integrating disability inclusion into national policies and development plans.

The event was attended by 200 participants, including politicians, government officials, representatives from organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), and journalists. The Chief Guest for the event was Md. Abul Kalam Azad, MP. Special Guests included K.M. Abdus Salam, Senior Secretary of the Bangladesh Parliament; Md. Shamsul Arefin, Secretary of the ICT Division; Md. Mokammel Hossain, Secretary of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism; and Amrita Rejina Rozario, Country Director of Sightsavers. The event was chaired by Mollah Mizanur Rahman, Joint Project Director at a2i (Joint Secretary).

The event commenced with a registration and tea session, followed by insightful presentations and discussions. Mr. Manik Mahmud, Programme Specialist Innovation at a2i and Executive Member of SMART Bangladesh Network, moderated the session. The agenda included discussions on the challenges and achievements related to disability innovation and the prospects of making SMART Bangladesh inclusive.

Ms. Amrita Rejina Rozario, Country Director, Sightsavers Bangladesh emphasised the necessity of revitalising and empowering this caucus to achieve the ambitious goals of a SMART Bangladesh. “To achieve the ambitious goals of a SMART Bangladesh, we must revitalise and empower this caucus. A rejuvenated parliamentarians’ caucus on disability can drive significant progress, addressing existing challenges and anticipating future needs in the disability sector”. Md. Shamsul Arefin, Secretary of the ICT Division, highlighted the government’s commitment, saying, “Integrating disability inclusion into our national agenda is not just a necessity but a moral obligation. We are dedicated to ensuring that SMART Bangladesh is accessible to all.”

The Chief Guest, Md. Abul Kalam Azad, MP, delivered a powerful closing speech, reiterating the government’s vision. “By 2041, we envision a Bangladesh where every citizen, regardless of their abilities, can contribute to and benefit from the nation’s progress. Today’s dialogue is a significant step towards realizing that goal.”

K.M. Abdus Salam, Senior Secretary of the Bangladesh Parliament, commented, “This dialogue is a testament to our commitment to building an inclusive society. Our policies must reflect the diversity and strengths of all our citizens.” Md. Mokammel Hossain, Secretary of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism, added, “Accessibility is key to empowerment. We are working towards making all public services, including aviation, fully accessible to persons with disabilities.” Mollah Mizanur Rahman, Joint Project Director at a2i, stated, “Innovation in policy and practice is essential to drive the inclusion agenda. Today’s discussions have provided valuable insights that will guide our future initiatives.”

The dialogue aimed to identify the challenges and opportunities in creating an accessible and inclusive SMART Bangladesh, thereby reinforcing the commitment to equal opportunities and empowerment for all citizens. The insights and collaborative efforts from this event were vital for driving sustainable and inclusive development, ensuring that technological advancements and societal progress benefited everyone.

The policy dialogue concluded with a consensus on the need for continuous engagement and the establishment of a caucus to drive the disability inclusion agenda forward, ensuring that SMART Bangladesh is a model of inclusivity and accessibility.

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