Leaving no one behind is the main theme of Sustainable Development Goals SDG’s which Pakistan has ratified. But in province Sindh people with disabilities are always left behind in all aspects of life. Every day is a challenge for people with disabilities but not because of their physical or mental conditions, but society’s inability to serve their needs.
World Health Organization defines disability as any restriction or lack (resulting from any impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being. By not empowering the country’s disabled with education and employment, Pakistan is facing annual losses of about Rs127 billion, according to a report.
Just to highlight for my readers that in 2018 the PPP government passed an important disability law. The Sindh Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act is the only true and meaningful effort in Pakistan to give effect to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The preamble cites eight fundamental principles of the CRPD, encompassing respect for the inherent dignity of PWDs and their rights to full inclusion and participation in society without discrimination. Moreover, this Act ensures the right to privacy, ease of access and mobility, protection from torture and inhumane treatment and freedom from exploitation for people with special needs. In Section 3.2 of the act, roads and streets, open spaces, public parks, residential apartments, hotels/motels/inns, commercial buildings, hospital, marriage halls and religious buildings should be made accessible for people with disabilities.
But in contrast to this law, the actual reality is different. PWDs in Sindh do not have the right to inclusive education, most of the schools does not enroll children with disabilities if they do then do not provide access, and make suitable accommodations in the curricula to aid their learning. All public spaces including parks, schools, roads, footpaths, railway stations, airports and waterways have not been designed and modified according to the Accessibility Code of Pakistan, 2006, which provide maximum accessibility to PWDs. Despite this, persons with disabilities are marginalised in Pakistan: they face discrimination, exclusion and neglect, and are unable participate fully and effectively in society. They particularly face barriers in education, economic participation, legal recognition, and availability of clinical resources.
The biggest problem that persons with disabilities face in Pakistan is that the social environment and the people’s culture are mostly hostile to them. Many persons’ disabilities are aggravated by society’s attitude towards them. The lives of a large number of people are spoiled and their potential for coming good is lost because of people’s habit of looking down on those with slight impairment and treating such impairment as the mark of their identification and the dominant feature of their personality.
In Pakistan, estimates of the number of persons living with disabilities is 30 million. In a bid to protect the rights and dignity of its population with disabilities, Pakistan ratified the CRPD in 2011. Article 28 of the CRPD in particular recognizes the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living and to social protection, ensuring the enjoyment of both rights without discrimination on the basis of ability.
Therefore, state parties should take appropriate measures to ensure that they receive equal access to mainstream social protection programmes and services including basic services, social security systems, poverty reduction programmes and housing programmes but also specific programmes and services for disability-related needs and expenses.
Some new buildings in Pakistan are accessible to disabled people but in Sindh most are not disabled-friendly and lack proper accommodations. Students and youth with disabilities are hit hardest as they are unable to continue education which leaves them further immobilized. The educational institutions must have accessible buildings and elevators so that at least our young generation is not left behind. In traditional societies like Pakistan particularly Sindh where education is low and economic development has not taken-off, the disabilities of household members are concealed, especially those acquired at or soon after birth. Mental retardation, physical deformities, and mental ailments are perceived as a stigma due to which the ‘family name’ is considered at stake especially for the extended family. The presence of any disability or handicap due to congenital problems or psychological concerns is considered a threat to the family’s social status. The family’s own concern lies in the social discrimination at the hands of other people justifying concealment of facts or occurrences of handicapped births.
I have been in Sindh from past 4 years exploring the interior Sindh, personally I haven’t seen any work done for the PWDs just hollow slogans by the policy makers. No facility in terms of livelihood and everyday life. At least seven million people with disabilities (PWD) are forced to stay home as they do not have access to wheelchairs in Pakistan. For this case, a baby step was taken by Marvi Rural Development Organization-MRDO in collaboration Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) donated 100- Wheel Chairs to disables communities who belonged to (Ghotki & Khairpur Mirs) at Shah Latif University, Khairpur. Basically, this event was organized which aimed to increase the awareness and understanding of people towards the disability issues of disabled people and to support the disabled people to get their self-respect, rights, welfare and security in the society.
While talking with Tahir Malik, he is working as Senior General Manager in one of the leading organizations of Pakistan, was on the view that the Government of Pakistan does not offer a comprehensive welfare benefits system, leaving most persons with disabilities to rely on financial and emotional support from their families, resulting in further loss of productivity. While efforts are being made to include persons with disabilities in Pakistani society and the workforce through different policies and approaches, there is a significant and persistent implementation gap and persons with disabilities continue to experience barriers. Pakistan has made positive policy steps in the last ten years: the government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2011, which requires participating countries to establish anti-discrimination laws to protect and uphold the rights of persons with disabilities. In addition, policies such as establishing a quota system for access to education, training and the workforce are also in place. However, progress on mainstreaming persons with disabilities into society is frustratingly slow”.
While concluding, I want to say that Pakistan cannot afford to ignore millions of its citizens who are currently out of sight because of disability but who, if given a chance, could contribute significantly to the country as a whole. The government, civil society, businesses and persons with disabilities themselves have to work for this cause. From the government to the man on the street, there needs to be a shift from a culture of pity to one focused on dignity, empowerment and rights. To make this shift, persons with disabilities need to be empowered through quality education; they must have equal access to employment and be able to live and work in a broader physical environment conducive to their mobility, learning and working needs. Disability is not inability – it is a diversity that needs to be accepted.