Handi-capable: Helping turn disability into ability

Published: July 22, 2011
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A diagram to explain just how high the ramp must go for wheelchair access. IMAGE: NOWPDP

A diagram to explain just how high the ramp must go for wheelchair access. IMAGE: NOWPDP

KARACHI: 

Teaching physically challenged people how to use computers can help them support themselves and connect them to the rest of the world, experts stressed on Thursday at a meeting.

Roughly 70 representatives from non-profit, community and corporate organisations, donor agencies and the government put their heads together to suggest solutions for disabled people in Pakistan.

The participants also included people directly related to the problem. Their challenges ranged from physical, speech, hearing, visual, intellectual and learning disabilities and autism. The workshop on ‘Needs of the Disabled Community’ was held at the Marriott Hotel by the Aga Khan Council of Pakistan initiative, Network of Organisations Working for People with Disabilities in Pakistan (NOWPDP). The disabled need jobs employment, education, government support, facilities and care centres in urban areas but there is a shortage of funds.

Malik Tahir, who provides free legal aid to organisations affiliated with NOWPDP, highlighted the rights of disabled people in the country and donors discussed how disabled people could access their funds.

Adnan Sarwar, who is living with muscular dystrophy, felt that the most pressing issue was awareness followed closely by a lack of recognition of patient needs. Sarwar recommended computer literacy as an alternative to vocational skills training. “This will not only suit the needs of almost all disabled people but will also connect them to corporate firms where computer-based jobs or free-lance projects are available.” He believes that knowing how to operate a computer is better than education that does not help them support themselves financially later in life.

Annie told the gathering of how she hopes to raise awareness in rural areas but is hindered by the lack of support and resources.

Gallup Pakistan prepared a report from an interview held in 2009. They spoke to 2,709 people from both urban and rural areas of all four provinces and put together a review of the obstacles faced by disabled people. They focused on accessibility, care for disabled people, education, employment and vocational training and services in urban areas. They also explored how disabled children are locked away in their homes.

NOWPDP launched an innovative ‘Disability Services Directory’ at the workshop. The directory is an online website that allows users to retrieve and update information on services customised for people with disabilities across Pakistan. It is accessible via SMS, so people with impaired eyesight or without access to the internet or a computer can use it.

NOWPDP President Amin Hashwani said that the idea was initiated in 2008 after some organisations working for the cause felt the need to coordinate between each other. In its first phase, the organisation trained 500 teachers across Pakistan. It is working to create jobs, influence government policy and to integrate media for better coverage of the issue.

The organisation’s executive officer, Jeremy Higgs, added that NOWPDP is trying to convince organisations to employ disabled people. KESC, Artistic Milliners, Gul Ahmed and Hashwani group are already onboard while Telenor, Unilever, HBL and the British Council have shown their commitment to the cause.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd,  2011.

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