ISLAMABAD-The United Nations observes the International Day for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) worldwide on 3rd December every year to emphasise the need for removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all.

According to the UN, over a billion people, approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population, live with some form of disability.

They are unable to fully participate in the global development due to the barriers in the form of improper physical environment, lack of access to information, legislation and government policy, and the discriminatory societal attitudes.

In Pakistan, where the population of disable persons is increasing due to poor health facilities, road accidents, terrorist violence and natural calamities, we urgently need to take practical steps to make them useful members of the society with dignity, justice and equality.

Pakistan signed the Instrument of Ratification on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in July 2011 but unfortunately, no serious effort has been made on the part of the government to ensure practical implementation of the convention and other laws aimed at integrated education, employment, and rehabilitation of the PWDs in our society.  Therefore, the government has also been unable to submit a UN required report on the implementation of UNCRPD in Pakistan, which is due since July 2013.  In fact, the lack of legal framework and a comprehensive policy on the rights of PWDs on the federal and provincial levels speak for the poor record of successive governments. Unfortunately, matters concerning the PWDs are being managed in the country on the bases of a few executive orders.

In this regard, an orientation programme for the members of the parliament about the abilities and disabilities of the PWDs may serve the purpose of providing the parliamentarians with a better idea of the needs and limitations of more than three per cent of the country’s population for which they are supposed to make legislation. In Pakistan, where even the general education system is unsatisfactory, a lot more needs to be done for the provision of quality education to special children. The use of new technology such as, “screen-reading softwares” for the blind persons is a much sought-out requirement of the day.

Alternative formats such as provision of computer and Braille for the visually-impaired persons come as a necessity for their participation in the board, college, university and all other competitive examinations.

On the other hand, the government’s efforts in special education are entirely based on a segregated institutions system for the PWDs, and no help or assistance is being offered to those who opt for the mainstream educational institutions.

For a better integration of special persons in the society, the government is ought to encourage and facilitate integrated education system for the PWDs.

Moreover, the performance of all special education departments and institutions demands an immediate re-evaluation, for provision of modern assistive technologies. Ironically, the two per cent job quota for the PWDs is not being observed even at the government departments’ recruitment process level.

To undo the anomaly, the authorities may mull over the formation of a monitoring committee to assess and ensure the implementation of two per cent quota for the PWDs in all public and corporate sector organisations.

The proposed committee would prove to be more effective and would better represent the special persons if at least 50 per cent of its members hail from the deprived community.

Besides, the executive order of two per cent quota for the disable persons merits a legal protection by getting it approved from the parliament.

Furthermore, the quota for special persons may be reviewed for an increase up to at least three per cent in all government sector jobs, according to their actual population ratio.

Unfortunately, despite being a sizeable portion of the society and the working class, yet, there is an absence of any legal framework for making working place environment friendly for the PWDs.

They are not even being provided with any of the special equipment necessary for undertaking their job requirements.

Due to their peculiar needs, the special persons have to spend more money for the fulfilment of their regular needs such as travelling etc.

In this regard, a revision of their salaries by the inclusion of some extra allowance would surely help in lessening their woes.

Moreover, their housing requirements are also needed to be urgently addressed to facilitate a respectful living for the PWDs and their immediate families. Better opportunities in higher education are also a due right of the special persons who have the potential to excel in their areas of study.

For this, a special quota devised by the Higher Education Commission in indigenous and foreign scholarships, for the PWDs can serve the purpose.

We also need to create awareness regarding legal and constitutional rights of the special persons, as the lack of knowledge has proved to be the biggest impediment in the up-gradation of their status in the society.  For the visually-impaired persons, the basic necessary information about the government, and the government offices should be made available in alternate formats.  Facilities according to the different physical needs of the PWDs need be made mandatory for the buildings under the use of government and private sector, so that the issue of accessibility is properly addressed.

The banking sector may also be encouraged to provide all the modern technological facilities such as the Credit Card, ATM, phone and internet banking to the blind persons.

More importantly, the discrimination by the banks on the basis of visual impairment should immediately be stopped.

The benefits of the ever increasing influence of the vigilant media must also reach the disable persons.

A sensitisation drive can be launched through mass media by highlighting the achievements and accomplishments of special persons to make sure that they are viewed as true productive citizens of the society and are treated at par with other citizens instead of being met with the usual ignorant attitude.

Success stories and information about the heroisms of the persons with disabilities may also be included in the students’ course books.

Furthermore, all basic information about the lifestyle, abilities, limitations and the technologies used for the education of the special persons can be included in all teachers’ training programmes, such as BEd and MEd.

Finally, the best approach to resolve the problems of the disable persons is their own representation in the policy-making institutions.

In this regard, reservation of special seats for the persons with disabilities in the national and provincial assemblies will be of utmost value and would bring the desired results.

The writer is a PhD Scholar at SPIR Quaid-i-Azam University and tweets @radiant_J_007