Issues and Challenges

Are Differently-Abled People Marginalized in Pakistani Society

Disability is defined in various ways in academic literature. It is difficult to find any unanimously agreed upon definition, however, the most comprehensive is the one put forward by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(CRPD), which defines disability as  “long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments, which in interaction with various barriers may hinder a person’s full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” It can be cognitive, developmental, physical, or sensory impairment.

Disability is common throughout the globe and is void of any socio-economic, racial or gender discrimination. Despite being very conspicous, people with disabilities largely remain invisible and faceless. They face many challenges and are often marginalised and shamed in the society. Disability is considered to be a grave stigma and even families find its admittance difficult. Ignorance and misinformation causes people to discriminate persons with disabilities. Particularly, in the rural segments of country they are thought of as a curse from God or a test of their faith for parents. Often families tend to hide their disabled children just for the sake of upholding their social standing. Research suggests that the disabled face a lot of discrimination starting at the hands of their immediate family members and are often considered to be a financial and emotional burden. They are labelled with names like “crippled” or “mentally retarded” that distorts their personality. 
Attainment of education is another challenge. There is only a handful of educational institutes established that are catering to the needs of persons with disabilities. This widens the economic gap where disabled persons face hardships in getting employment. Their disability is considered a weakness and no matter how outstanding their credentials are, they end up being marginalised and discriminated. Marriage is another battle that they have to face. Often, we see people with disabilities marrying another person who also has some kind or form of disability. It is considered a social taboo to marry a person with disabilities based on the presumption that they might not be able to lead a successful married life. This challenge is even harder for women where they are considered less and, thus, not worthy. Their disabilities   physical, cognitive, or sensory  are thought of as a barrier to fulfil their duties and in most cases are considered a burden.
General Zia-ul-Haq was a pioneer in setting up the Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance, 1981, amended later in 2015. This ordinance was formulated in response to the UN declaration of 1981 as ‘International Year of Disabled People’. Over the subsequent years, policies have been set up, modified, and updated to serve the needs of disabled people in a more systematic manner. The Special Citizens Act, 2008 is another example where efforts were made to give special status to the largely marginalised disabled people. Efforts have also been made to provide equal opportunities to people with special needs. The National Education Policy was set up in 2017 that stressed on inclusive learning and ensured that disabilities did not get in the way of providing equal opportunities to the students. Another encouraging step was taken by introducing Special Identity Cards (SCNICs) issued by NADRA. By acquiring SCNICs, persons with disabilities can get access to a number of benefits offered by the Government of Pakistan. In 2020, a bill was passed in the National Assembly called ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2020. It stresses on equality for the disabled in all walks of life and ensures that the government will take steps that would ensure their inclusivity in the society by providing equal opportunities through “education, skill development, training and placement against appropriate positions in the government departments and entities in the private sector according to the allocated quota.” This bill was passed in the hopes of ending discrimination, stigma and shame that is associated with persons with disabilities. The 2020 Supreme Court rulings in response to the pleas by members of the disabled community are positive steps in the right direction. The rulings instructed the federal and provincial governments to follow through with their legislations passed for the disabled. These rulings stressed not only on the implementation of existing legislation but encouraged investing in more accessible infrastructure as well as and eradication of technological barriers for the disabled to perform to the best of their abilities in all sectors. 

These measures have been largely positive and rightfully address the problems faced by the disabled. However, the situation on ground still needs a lot of reforms. The policy makers need to understand the struggles and problems of people with disabilities and should regularly conduct research and analysis about this issue. This will enable them to formulate policies in conjunction with the requirements of persons with disabilities. Investments should be made in buildings and infrastructures by making them more accessible. Educational institutes need to be more inclusive in catering to the needs of the persons with disabilities. There should be training programs for teachers to better equip themselves with adequate skills to teach students with special needs. Sign language needs to be integrated in the curriculum, so that the challenges of communication are addressed. Instead of just celebrating the International Day of Disability on December 3, concrete steps need to be taken to make life easier and meaningful. There needs to be a collective efforts at all levels; individual, government, businesses, institutes, etc., should work together to find ways to a construct a more inclusive environment.
In spite of the situation looking so bleak, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We see warriors who have defeated disability by not bowing down to it. They have proved that disability would never come in the way of someone who is not ready to give up on their dream. One such example is Muniba Mazari, often called the ‘Iron lady of Pakistan’. Her being paraplegic, because of an accident, did not stop her from becoming the national ambassador for UN Women in Pakistan. She is a brand ambassador, a painter, and a motivational speaker. Tanzila Khan, a wheelchair-user is an entrepreneur, activist, public speaker and delivers sessions on various topics such as unleashing creativity, overcoming barriers, and inclusion within businesses. She is also the founder of which delivers urgent menstrual kits to menstruators in Pakistan. She has been awarded fellowships such as Young Connector of the Future by the Swedish Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and Young Leader by Women Deliver. Tanzila Khan recently won the first ever Amal Clooney Women’s Empowerment Award by the Prince of Wales at Prince’s trust award in London in May 2022 for her services.
A common theme in these examples is a continuous support and encouragement from their families who did not give up on them. This means that the change starts at the grassroot level. Instead of pity, we must motivate and uplift these individuals to be a part of the mainstream. It is not a duty of one person or one institute, it is our collective social responsibility. HH

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