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Our Apathy Towards Persons with Disabilities

Tall claims with regards to protection of the rights and interests of Persons With Disabilities has been hallmark of nearly every regime that came to power in Pakistan over the past 76 years. But have those promises and commitments actually translated into action? Ask any Person with Disability (PWD) and the answer is most likely to be in negative. Excluding of course those exceptions who might have been really lucky to either find a job under government-allocated job quota for PWDs or a compensation in any form. Fact of the matter is that a vast majority of Pakistan’s handicapped population still remains deprived from benefits and rights it is entitled to. Over the past 20 years, nearly half a dozen laws have been enacted that promise PWDs rehabilitation, social protection and career development. But tangible progress towards these goals is yet to be seen. Why is there such a yawning gap between our claims and our actions? The onus of responsibility lies on each one of us. We as a society still require to develop a lot more empathy and sensitization towards bringing PWDs into mainstream. Before blaming the government, we all need to take a moment and ponder as to what have we, in our individual capacities, done to benefit or even facilitate PWDs. We as citizens have not even been able to make our cities disabled friendly that could have facilitated mobility of PWDs and made their lives way easy. The Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration some time back made it mandatory for all commercial banks, transport system, public places including public toilets etc to build ramps outside their buildings for PWDs to be wheeled inside without hindrance. While some banks adhered to the order, most of the banks created such ramps but only for formality and not according to proper measurements to cater the needs of a wheelchair user. Such is our apathy towards PWDs. Name any public park in Islamabad where tracks are aligned in such a way that a PWD could wheel himself into on his own. Name any shopping place where a PWD could make his way into on his own. Islamabad’s biggest shopping mall until a few years back use to have a car parking space allocated specially for PWDs, but the same has now been abolished. Such is our insensitivity and indifferent attitude towards the handicapped. PWDs can hardly have access to any place in Islamabad on their own given the fact that we as society have not yet evolved to the level of sensitivity where we take an ownership of our fellow disabled populations, like in all developed and even many developing countries. Neighboring India being one of them. The Government of Pakistan has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) on 5th July, 2011 in UN General Assembly and implementation of UNCPRPD is mandatory for the Government of Pakistan. DGSE&SW established a cell called UNCRPD secretariat for the implementation of UN Convention in January, 2012. According to WHO, Pakistan’s PWDs constitute about 15% of our total population, whereas official figures put the percentage at 2.9. Critics say the reason for such high variation in figures is because acknowledgement of the higher percentage would bound the state to allocate higher resources and funds which might not be desirable. If such is the level of our apathy, we might not be able to provide PWDs their promised rights. Ever!

By Hassan Gillani

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