In today's interconnected and technology-driven world, inclusivity and accessibility are vital to ensure that- no one is left behind. Bangladesh, with its strong commitment to building a fair and equitable society, truly understands the importance of accessibility in all aspects of public life. Accessible procurement emerges as a powerful tool in forging a disability-inclusive smart Bangladesh, where every individual can enjoy equal rights as protected through our holy constitution: Article 19 (2) states that “The State shall adopt effective measures to remove social and economic inequality between man and man and to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth among citizens, and of opportunities in order to attain a uniform level of economic development throughout the Republic”.
It is worth mentioning that the Bangladesh government has already enacted the law titled “The Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013”, which safeguards the rights of people with disabilities. The Information and Communication Technology Policy, 2018 focuses on making technology accessible for everyone, including people with disabilities. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics Household Survey 2016, approximately 6.94% of Bangladesh's total population experience some form of disability. However, the more recent 'National Survey on Persons with Disabilities (NSPD) 2021' indicates that around 2.80% (approximately 47.42 lakh individuals) have at least one disability, with 3.29% among males and 2.34% among females. Furthermore, the survey found that disability rates were 2.92% in rural areas and 2.45% in urban areas.
Accessible procurement refers to the practice of considering accessibility requirements in the acquiring of goods, services, and works. Inclusion and equal access are fundamental principles of accessibility procurement. To maintain the equality of all citizen and fostering the inclusive growth of the society, it is of paramount importance to ensure accessible procurement in the country, which ensure that all procurement structures prioritize inclusivity and accessibility for all individuals.
Global initiatives for accessible procurement
Countries across the globe have already undertaken various initiatives to incorporate accessibility issues in different stages of the procurement process. For example, in the USA, GSA, Section 508 gov itself bears the vision statement as “ Buy.Bulid.Be Accessible”. Under section 508.gov, the US government is implementing accessible procurement by applying the “Universal Design” concept in the procurement process. Canada has been actively promoting accessible procurement under the Accessible Canada Act, 2019. Japan has been taking steps to ensure accessibility in the government procurement process through the Promotion of Development and Distribution of Universal Design Products. The UK is implementing accessible procurement under the purview of the Equality Act, 2010. Australia is also taking care of accessible procurement through the Disability Discrimination Act, 1992. India has taken significant steps to promote accessible procurement through the act titled “The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016”. The EU has directives that promote accessibility through accessibility standardization (Design for all approaches) and issuing different Mandates, notably, Mandate 376 (ICT accessibility), Mandate 473 (Design for all standards), and Mandate 420 (accessibility of websites and mobile applications). Many other countries around the world have been working on similar initiatives to promote accessible procurement.
Scope of application of accessible procurement under the current legal framework in Bangladesh
Public procurement in Bangladesh is regulated by the Public Procurement Act, (PPA), 2006, and Public Procurement Rules (PPR), 2008. Under the current legal framework in Bangladesh smart accessible procurement might be possible if some innovations can be considered. This may include incorporating accessibility requirements into all procurement activities, including evaluation and maintaining accessibility throughout the whole procurement life cycle. Active involvement of customers and colleagues with disabilities in the decision-making process will ensure that their needs are adequately addressed. Agency to Innovate (former Aspire to Innovate Program), (a2i) ICT Division has developed an accessibility auditors panel composed of different types of persons with disabilities, ensuring every systematic structure is inclusive and accessible for all. Procuring entities and suppliers/contractors/consultants might be equipped with a good understanding of accessibility standards and practices to meet the needs of people with disabilities. a2i has developed a comprehensive accessibility checklist which is integrated with the Terms of Reference (ToR). It is to be mentioned here that all the software and systems procured and developed by a2i are 100% accessible. Some of the accessibility features and content are web accessibility for inclusive online experiences, Inclusive Content Management Systems (CMS), accessible technologies for public use, telecommunication accessibility, Accessible Design (AD), printing, and publishing.
The commitment of the Bangladesh govt to the international community
Bangladesh's commitment to inclusivity and empowerment of persons with disabilities is exemplified through its alignment with international frameworks such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Marrakesh VIP Treaty. As Bangladesh is one of the first twenty countries to ratify the UNCRPD, ensuring equal rights and accessibility, including procurement policies. By integrating accessibility into procurement practices, the country takes tangible steps towards realizing the promise of the UNCRPD, advancing SDG objectives, and reinforcing its commitment to the principles of the UNCRPD. This multifaceted commitment is a cornerstone of Bangladesh's journey towards a more inclusive and equitable society.
In order to fulfil our commitment towards inclusive growth as far as concerned with public procurement, the following issues may be taken care of: defining accessibility provisions, clauses and acceptance criteria; implementing standards and accessibility guidelines for all categories of procurement; use of universally designed products, creating, updating and maintaining a list of commodities/products/systems/physical and IT infrastructure across government for which accessibility considerations are relevant, universal design (UD) guideline based on equity, dignity and functionality (as Japan did) may be developed and implemented.
Accessibility is “more than a” compliance. Embracing accessible procurement practices is not just a legal obligation but a stepping stone towards a disability-inclusive smart Bangladesh. By prioritizing accessibility throughout the procurement process, the nation can pave the way for a future where all individuals have equal opportunities and access to goods, services, and technology. Together, let us create a more inclusive and empowered society, leaving no one behind in the journey towards a disability-inclusive Smart Bangladesh by 2041.