The life of the differently abled is very challenging and difficult. The term has come to encompass a lot more than just a physical disability that binds a person to a wheelchair. People can be physically or mentally different than the perceived norm. This doesn’t mean they have civil rights less than those of any other citizen who fits our idea of what is ‘normal’. About 20 million people in Pakistan are reportedly disabled, which accounts for about 10% of the population. Population census estimates are also skewed, which makes the situation direr. Their life comes with its own challenges as is, but here are five ways it is more difficult to be a differently abled person in Pakistan.
We always scream at the top of our lungs demanding facilities for ourselves from the government. Even if they are not that important, which can be something as trivial as free wifi even. But we entirely forget the requirements of the differently abled. The lack of accessibility ramps in public places, for instance, discourages them from leaving their house and often leads to isolation. Just last year, the Society for Special Persons in Pakistan discovered that in Multan alone, about 90% of public buildings had no accessibility ramps. This is an unacceptably large number of places that a considerable segment of society doesn’t have access to. The government needs to work on making public places friendlier for the differently abled. Having ramps where people can assist themselves, instead of being reliant on others to carry them, would be a great place to start.
Our public health system is in a deplorable state and privatized health system is just a money minting business. The differently abled require frequent medical checks, vaccinations, and medicines, which are usually unaffordable by the patient. They have to quit treatment, which leads to their condition deteriorating further. If we had a well-built system, which gave special attention to this problem things would be much better. Here, it must be noted that health care does not merely mean providing operative care when needed. But it also means having proper rehabilitation centers for a range of physical and mental problems that differently abled people might face.
Have you ever been to a school or other educational institute that is disabled friendly? The answer would be probably no, there are only a few. That too, private or NGO run. The privately run are usually expensive and out of reach for most. Do differently abled people have no right to education? They do. So, why are policymakers not giving it to them? School curriculums need to be rethought to suit them as well. For instance, a simple inclusion of braille learning for blind children can do mounds for their educational development. The whole problem arises from an exclusionary mindset. They are special but it does not mean that they are to be put into a separate world, which is the main reason behind them having social anxiety as well.
They are entitled to the same constitutional rights as any other. Yet, they are unable to exercise their rights such as voting, political participation etc. Our claim of becoming a meritocratic society goes down the drain because we don’t give employment chances to deserving candidates. Interestingly, the 1981 Employment and Rehabilitation Ordinance actually legislates employment quotas for disabled persons. But, this is by and large unpracticed. With lack of facilities, differently abled people only become an inevitable exclusion from mainstream society.
Disabled people on a daily receive hostile and pitiful looks from people. This discourages them, makes them lose their self-esteem and confidence. Some cruel people even catcall at them. Referring to people as langra (crippled) or andha (blind) is actually problematic because of the derogative implication intended. It feels seemingly harmless. But when we call a person who is able to walk langra, we are making the joke at the expense of someone who is actually unable to walk on their own. So, a simple excercise in policing ourselves will do mounds for the general increase in empathy we practice as a society.
Differently abled people are in fact specially abled and the supposed ‘normal’ people need to learn to accept and embrace them. And, teach others the same. Moreover, we must fight for their rights as our own because any differently abled person excluded from society is a whole lot of potential lost. Potential that can be channeled towards the positive development of Pakistan as a whole, both socially as well as economically.