The Supreme Court’s (SC) decision to ban the use of offensive words, like ‘physically or mentally handicapped’ and ‘mentally retarded’ in official correspondence reiterates the fact that, as a society, our lax vocabulary can shape the outlook of certain factions of society and subject them to adverse treatment. Paving the way to a more accessible future, this discouragement for derogatory terms is welcomed.

Urging officials to use the term ‘persons with disabilities’, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah sought to protect these individuals from an unaccepting public. Already, disabled individuals face rejection, discrimination, neglect and a lack of employment opportunities. This level of disenfranchisement disables them from succeeding in today’s practical world. If you add the perception culminated through inconsiderate use of vocabulary, one can understand why they receive such harsh treatment.

The labels we give, or the words we use to describe people, play a significant part in what kind of behaviour disadvantaged society members are exposed to. Once causes for disabilities are negated, ignored or ridiculed, a personal tragedy stands to be disregarded completely. Cherry-picking certain terms is not only a way through which the dignity of people with disabilities can be protected but is also the first step in changing the unjust narrative that surrounds them—making a more tolerant and accessible Pakistan as a whole.

The main focus of the government in regards to disabled individuals is twofold: the first surrounds creating enough awareness amongst the population to foster care and nurture openness that should have been present from the get go. Secondly, there is a responsibility upon the government to ensure that this minority is facilitated in all aspects of life—going well beyond the bare minimum of installing slopes or elevators in buildings. Systematic change is needed so that equality in opportunity can be extended to each and every citizen of the country.