Pakistan is far behind in its recognition of the rights of the disabled; this includes their right to be inclusive members of society and their right to protest peacefully and associate freely. In an insensitive and inhumane display, the staff of the Alhamra Art Council, locked up visually impaired people in the Art Gallery, congregated to ask for their rights at the International Day of Disabled Persons event. It was tragically ironic, that while the International Day of Disabled Persons was being observed on December 3 around the world, visually impaired people were being harassed and locked up so they wouldn’t be an “inconvenience” to the attendees of the event.
This treatment is shameful and regrettable and the Alhamra Art council should take notice of the incident and apologise formally to the people who were mistreated on their watch. This is not the first time the disabled have been subjected to inhumane treatment by figures of authority. The Punjab Police on this very day in 2014, manhandled a group of blind men who were protesting outside the Lahore press club in favour of an increase in the job quota for the blind in the government sector.
In Pakistan, the social barriers and stigma related to the disabled in the country is alive and kicking. According to the 1998 census, the figure of 3,286,630 disabled persons in a total population of 132,352,000 was calculated indicating 2.4 per cent of the population is disable. This figure has increased significantly to the ballpark figure of 15 per cent, and the government is largely incapable of delivering services necessary for treatment, intervention and rehabilitation, such as medical care, developing special education materials and aids, training of teachers, ensuring prosthetics, physiotherapy and psychotherapy.
Research suggests that Pakistan could be losing 6.3% of its GDP due to the exclusion of persons with disabilities (PwDs). If this continues, the economic cost of exclusion is estimated at USD $33 million per day, every day, not to mention a loss of talent and a continuation of a cycle of poverty for those who are disabled.
Ultimately the most important barrier to persons with disabilities is the prevailing attitudes of abled people. People feel sympathy towards the disabled but do not want to understand their capabilities, and are happy to have them missing from the active workforce. Some companies even hire disabled persons but tell them to sit at home and they’ll be paid a salary because the workplace lacks necessary facilities and similar issues exist in the education sector. This view assumes that disabled people have nothing to offer, when unfortunately it is the general society that has nothing to offer to them.