A startling 15 per cent of the population of Pakistan suffers from some form of disability. This translates to 28.5 million people, not all of whom are to be seen begging at traffic lights and other public places. The majority bear their disabilities in relative silence and obscurity, making the best of their lives if they are able to work or cared for by relatives if they are not. Few are accorded the respect they deserve and their lives are made yet more difficult by an infrastructure that rarely includes ramps allowing wheelchair access, obstructed pavements thick with encroachments, no simultaneous translation on TV channels that would enable the deaf to understand what was going on and precious little by way of modern aids and adaptations. Legislation that addresses the rights of the disabled gathers dust and is either ignored or simply unknown.
A recent training session titled “Advocacy skills for Securing Disability Rights” heard that it is time for organisations that work for and with disabled people to work together in order to be an effective lobby for the disabled. They need to cooperate to develop a rights-based approach to disability rather than the charity and welfare approach. The session was told that in general terms, the people of Pakistan were sympathetic to the disabled but few did anything to actually help them. The lack of a modern census makes it difficult to mount a legislative drive based on accurate figures. The government is bound by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD) to make the necessary provision for the rehabilitation and empowerment of those with disabilities. There are 28.5 million people who are currently marginalised, poorly served legislatively and in workplace opportunity, education and access as well as health services and recreation. Even the new shopping malls and multiplex cinemas lack the most basic of disabled provision. It is easy to forget the disabled, but they are no less deserving of the protection of their rights than anybody else.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2014.
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