Mainstreaming the disabled

Promoting integrated education where children with some disability study in regular schools, can catalyse change.

Akhtar Waheed December 02, 2011

Of the now seven billion population of our planet, at least 650 million people are suffering from some disability. Moreover, almost seven per cent of our total population is disabled, meaning that we as a nation have to take positive steps to bring such people into the fold of normal lives. The international day of ‘persons with disability’ was envisaged by the UN in 1992 and is celebrated each year with a new theme with this year’s being “Together for a better world for all: Including persons with disabilities in development”.

Disability can be physical in nature, it can refer to the structural composition of the human body; or it may be psychological. Such disability may be the result of a traumatic experience a person had to endure or, it may be the result of a congenital deficit.

Unfortunately, the attitude towards disability, especially, in our country is less than satisfactory and borders on apathy. In our society, disabled persons are considered a stigma for relatives and friends who are actually supposed to be their biggest strength. Giving alms to disabled beggars is not enough! Individuals with disability are to be treated as equals, as peers and with a sense of empathy, not sympathy.

In this regard, we as a society need to start changing our fixed ideas regarding special persons. The theme selected by the UN this year rightly focuses on including persons with disabilities in the development of the nation. Why can’t a lower limb amputee work as a banker? Why can’t a spinal cord injury or paralysed patient work as a teacher? Why can’t a child with cerebral palsy achieve higher education? These steps might seem daunting and revolutionary for us to take, but they are being taken throughout the world. Change requires only the acceptance of such people as useful members of society and the will to help them in achieving this goal. Instead of labelling persons with disabilities as a liability, we can actually transform them into useful assets who not only live their lives independently, but also contribute towards the community’s resources.

An effort at the government level, with help from citizens, is required to achieve these goals. Media campaigns can be the vehicle for spreading this message. Teaching these notions to children at the school level will inculcate these values at an early stage. In fact, promoting integrated education in which children with some physical disability are able to study in regular schools, can act as a catalyst for this change. Developing and ensuring special quotas for disabled persons in the job market will go a long way towards their rehabilitation as well. Thus, events like ‘World disability day’ should be celebrated all over the country to create awareness in this regard.

Medically, dealing with disability primarily comes under the field of rehabilitation medicine. The Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation is the largest centre in the country catering to this segment of our population. From disabled soldiers to children born with disabilities; all patients are rehabilitated at this facility, possessing the latest equipment and a dedicated and qualified staff, comparable with any such facility in the world. Here, such individuals are not only treated for their disability but also given vocational training, so that they can rejoin the society with their heads held high, as they are able to earn their own livelihoods.

Commemorating the international day for disabled persons with a focus on including them in the developmental process of our society, will not only be a huge boost for the morale of such persons, but it will be a good step forward in nation-building.


Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2011.


Mariam Masud | 10 years ago | Reply

I am really happy to read an article about disability because as a disabled British-Pakistani myself, I feel that the issue of disability has been marginalized by Pakistani culture. I understand that the country is going through a lot of turmoil at the moment, and I don't want to take any focus away from that. But people with disabilities are seen as useless and seen as a section of society that cannot be of help to society. However, people with disabilities are people as well, and can be fully functional members of society, if given the chance. Why cant a disabled person become a teacher or an accountant? As I have mentioned above, I am an disabled person, but I am also a lawyer, my brain is functioning, so what if I am in a wheelchair? I agree with the writer, there needs to be a major cultural shift in the way disable people are thought of by Pakistani society as a whole, only then will other changes like disable friendly streets and malls become a reality.

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