Akhtar Waheed Of the, now, seven billion population of our planet, at least 650 million people are suffering from some disability. This includes people with mental and physical problems, who have to live each day of their lives as a new and daunting challenge. In this scenario, Pakistan, too, has its share of such issues. Almost 7 percent of our total population is disabled, meaning that we as a nation and a society have to take positive steps to bring such people into the fold of normal life. The International Day of Disabled Persons was envisaged by the UN in 1992 and is celebrated each year with a new theme. This year, it is: "Together for a better world for all, including persons with disabilities in development." Disability can encompass many aspects of an individuals life. It can be physical in nature, affecting any of the limbs or structural make up of the human body; or it may be mental, diminishing a persons ability to comprehend, recall or convey an appropriate emotion. These issues may be the result of any traumatic experience, which a previously normal person had to endure, like a road accident, gunshot, blast injury or a fall, causing a spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury or an amputation; to name a few Conversely, it may be the result of a congenital deficit, like cerebral palsy, myopathy or scoliosis in children. Notwithstanding the etiology or mode of injury, any disability is a major dent in that individuals life. Unfortunately, the attitude toward disability, especially in our country, is less than satisfactory, bordering on apathy. In our society, disabled persons (even with a minor issue) are considered a stigma for the relatives and friends, who are actually supposed to be their biggest strength. Giving alms to disabled beggars is not enough Individuals with disability are to be treated as peers and equals, and with a sense of empathy, not sympathy. Focusing on their residual abilities, meaning what they can achieve, rather than what they cannot, is the right track to start on. In this regard, we as a society need to start changing our fixed ideas about special persons. Stereotyping such people in script, television and movies, seems a good place to begin. The theme selected by the UN this year rightly focuses on including persons with disabilities in the development of the nation. Why cant a lower limb amputee not work as a banker? Why cant a spinal cord injury or stroke patient (paralysed) not work as a teacher? Why cant a child with cerebral palsy not achieve higher education? These steps might seem daunting and revolutionary for us, but are being practiced the world over regularly. It requires only the acceptance of such people as useful members of the society and the will to help them in achieving this goal. Instead of labelling persons with disability as liabilities, with the right approach, we can actually transform them into useful assets who would not only live their lives independently, but also contribute towards the communitys resources. An effort at the government level, with help from the citizens, is required to achieve these goals. Media campaigns, using print and electronic, can be the vehicle for spreading this message. Teaching children at school level will inculcate these values at an early stage. In fact, promoting integrated education in which children with some physical disability are able to study in regular schools, can act as catalyst for this change. Developing and ensuring special quotas for disabled persons in the job market will go a long way towards their rehabilitation as well. Thus, the events like 'World Disability Day should be celebrated all over the country to create awareness in this regard. Medically, dealing with disability primarily comes under the field of rehabilitation medicine. The Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation (AFIRM) is the largest centre in the country catering to this segment of our population. From disabled soldiers, who sacrificed their limbs and bodies for the motherland, to children born with any disability, all such patients are rehabilitated at this facility, possessing the latest equipment and a dedicated and qualified staff, comparable with any such facility in the world. Here such individuals are not only treated for their disability, but also given vocational training, so that they can rejoin the society with their heads held high, as they are able to earn their own livelihoods. Commemorating the International Day for Disabled Persons, with a focus on including them in the developmental process of our society, will not only be a huge boost for the morale of such persons, but will also lend our nation a helping hand in the form of individuals who do not seek but give; do not ask but answer; do not shy away but contribute toward building our great nation. The writer is commandant of the Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (AFIRM).