KARACHI: “The mother of a disabled boy who could not walk without braces shared with me why her son was not being allowed to attend school. ‘My son cannot walk without leg braces. The school says he has to wear regular shoes that are part of the uniform. That is why he is out of school’. Such is the lack of inclusiveness which differently abled people have to face. I refuse to call them disabled,” says the young Farhat Rasheed, an activist for rights of the disabled.
Rasheed herself has spent a life confined to the wheelchair, but has lived a full life, and has done it all from attending a normal school to working in a multi-national to travelling. She had then pursued the case with the school which the aforementioned boy was going to, and managed to convince them to allow him to attend school.
“My parents fought for my right for social inclusion, but a lot of parents are too unaware to do so. It also depends on the socio-economic strata you belong to,” says Rasheed. Her father had offered a known college for the elite of Karachi to build a ramp so that his daughter could attend classes there. “But the college said your child is incompatible to our institute,” she says with a brave laugh.
Along with a group of young people, Rasheed started a non-profit organisation called Show You Care (SYC) which works on awareness-raising about making public places accessible to disabled people through building ramps. “We have succeeded in getting 15 ramps constructed in Karachi alone. It is a fight,” says Rasheed.
Out of a registered population of about 180 million, over five million persons in Pakistan are officially considered to have some kind of disability; actual numbers are likely to be higher.
There is just a two per cent quota according to law in Pakistan’s workforce for persons with disabilities,” says Omair Ahmed, Director, Network of Organisations Working for People with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP).
Ahmed believes that social inclusion is the right of special people.
Explaining the demand of the disabled that sign language should be recognised, Ahmed says that it is an important debate when the hearing impaired or the visually impaired demand that they be seen as a minority community instead of being seen as disabled.
NOWPDP has very promising initiatives. One is what they have named “heArtwork”, in which disabled people produce works of art and craft, as a step towards economic empowerment. Another is The Rickshaw Project that helps disabled persons drive rickshaws and earn as well as get around.
“We are pushing for legislation in the Sindh Assembly so that motor vehicle driving is made easier and legal for special people,” says Ahmed, and confirms that Sindh’s major political parties are on board for this positive initiative, which includes members of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
A recent step in the right direction is that the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has made education for disabled free at not just school level but also at college and university level. “For the first time, the government of K-P is giving free higher education for physically challenged people,” says Rasheed, feeling encouraged.
K-P Education Minister Atif Khan, while talking to The Express Tribune, adds that even the age limit for jobs for the disabled in K-P has been relaxed by ten years.
A lot of initiatives from the private sector, mostly set up by parents and family of disabled people, also fill the gap. Rasheeda Naviwalla used the empathy she developed by being the parent of a special child and went on to be a founding member of Al-Umeed Rehabilitation Association (AURA).
Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2014.