The Population and Housing Census of Bhutan (PHCB) is an important national exercise undertaken every after 10 years to determine the socio-economic status of the entire population. The last time we had this kind of survey was in 2005. The findings from this survey are expected to guide the future plans and policies of the government to boost socio-economic development of the country. Hence, it is not surprising to see the questionnaire covering different aspects of social, economic and public life of each individual when an enumerator walks into your house. The main intention behind having such a comprehensive set of questions is to get the exact socio-economic profile of a person. It is therefore very important for each of us to participate in the survey and get counted. After having patiently waited for one and half days, I finally got counted this evening.
As the enumerator started reading out the questions to me, I realized that the survey has been designed to look at different issues of national importance such as poverty, unemployment, literacy and disability. While all the questions are interesting and well-structured, I thought the questions for the blind under the disability section could have been slightly rearranged to yield more accurate data. I heard that the first question is “Do you wear glasses?” and if the respondent answers ‘no’, the follow-up questions are usually skipped and the respondents don’t get the chance to say that they have difficulty seeing although they don’t wear glasses. The wearing of glasses and contact lenses alone should not be the determinant to measure your visual disability. For the totally blind like me, the enumerators can easily see our disability but for those low-vision people who do not even use glasses and contact lenses, this question alone may not fetch the desired data.
I have learned today that one of my low-vision friends who is an alumnus of Muenselling Institute in Khaling has not been counted under the ‘Disability’ category just because he answered ‘no’ to the primary question “Do you wear glasses?” He is a low-vision, a legally blind person but he doesn’t use eye-glasses or contact lenses. I heard that there is a follow-up question “Do you have difficulty seeing?” but since this was only a follow-up question, he did not get the chance to attend it when he said he does not use glasses. If this question was asked first, he could have got the opportunity to explain his disability to the enumerator. Likewise, there are many low-vision people in Bhutan who do not use visual aids just because they are either not comfortable using them or because the devices are not helpful to them. So in the absence of direct questions for the visually challenged respondents, there is a high chance that they could be misrepresented. So I would like to urge everybody who falls into this category to confess to the enumerators that you are legally blind although you don’t use glasses. That’s exactly what I did today. I told my enumerator that I use sunglasses but I am totally blind.
However on the positive side, this survey is expected to produce a huge bank of data that can be used by government agencies and stakeholders while framing national policies and programs. It is expected to provide a broad picture of Bhutan as a developing nation and would give us the direction for our future plans. I hope everybody would be able to participate in the census and get counted so that we will have a clear picture of where we are now and which direction to move next. Thanks to the National Statistical Bureau (NSB) for mobilizing all the resources and expertise to make this happen.