In a country where normally-abled individuals find it hard to survive, people with disabilities are at the bottom of the food chain. And the government’s ignorance towards them and the plights they face do not help the matter.
At a walk at the Iqra University to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Saturday, people with disabilities from across the nation demanded their right to be recognised.
They handed over a memorandum asking for representation of disabled persons at policy-making level and reforms for inclusive education to the Ministry of Law and Justice. The symbolic solidarity walk was organised by the Special Talent Exchange Programme (STEP) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
Talking to The Express Tribune, Mohammad Akram, a physically-challenged local of Muridke, said that people living with disabilities in his area are the “worst off”. He said that due to lack of health facilities and unhygienic living conditions people are prone to diseases and disabilities. He said there are many people suffering from paraplegia in his area who have never even heard of wheelchairs.
Given the lack of health facilities and widespread poverty, majority of parents take their children with disabilities, or even those suffering from diseases, to spiritual healers instead of doctors, said Akram. He said most parents consider their children’s disabilities a curse and keep them hidden inside their homes. “They feel ashamed to take them out in public.”
Akram said that his community wants to establish an organisation to work for the people with disabilities but the government is not permitting them, alleging that officials always demand ‘commissions’ in return.
Disabled by birth, Hassam Ali, 18, said he aspires to be an advocate but he is constantly discouraged by people around him from pursuing his education. Currently studying with the assistance of a non-government organisation, Ali says he is scared that the funds will stop once he completes his matriculation. Being the eldest among five siblings, Ali will be the sole breadwinner for his family.
A student of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) complained of people’s derogatory attitude towards the capabilities of physically challenged individuals. Asfandyar Khan, 22, said people often tell him that he will not be able to get a job because of his disability.
But not everyone at the walk had a sad tale to tell. Twenty-one years old Tanzila Khan said she does not let her disability hinder her goal of becoming a textile designer. The social worker went on to announce the launch of “Ramp Movement” campaign to motivate architects and stakeholders to construct ramps or lifts in all buildings to aid people with disabilities.
“It is our right to have an inclusive and barrier-free society so that we can flourish in our own dimensions,” she said. She added that the absence of ramps at commercial areas is a clear discrimination against people with disabilities.
STEP President Muhammad Atif Sheikh said that unless disabled people are brought into the development mainstream, it will be impossible to reduce poverty by half by 2015 or to give every girl and boy the chance to achieve primary education, which are among the Millennium Development Goals agreed to by more than 180 world leaders at the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000.
Pakistan had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on July 5. In her remarks, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Director Kozue Kay Nagata had said, “This is just a moving point, as Pakistan has to overcome the challenge to employ, educate, ensure basic health facilities and provide an inclusive and a barrier-free society to people with disabilities.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2011.