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KARACHI: Pakistan is estimated to have more than 18 million people with disabilities, a figure that is nearly the population of Karachi, one of the biggest cities in the world.

The country annually loses 4.9 per cent to 6.3 per cent of gross domestic product due to the exclusion of people with disabilities.

These facts were shared with journalists on Wednesday at a local hotel at the launch of a national competition being held to design a low-cost but comfortable cycle for people with disabilities.

The contest titled Accessible Cycle Design Challenge has been organised by the Network of Organisations Working with People with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP).

The programme started off with a short video highlighting the emotional and physical challenges a young polio victim faced in his life. It ends with the message: “Give us (people with disabilities) work, not alms so that we can have a life with dignity.”

“People are not disabled. It’s the society denying its citizens opportunities to a productive life which makes them disabled,” said president of NOWPDP Amin Hashwani, adding that it’s important for the country to have an inclusive society.

Making an effort to help support people with disabilities, he pointed out, must not be looked at as an act of charity. “But rather be made out of inspiration,” he remarked.

About the NOWPDP’s initiatives so far, he informed the audience that the organisation founded by the Aga Khan National Council in 2008 was presently involved in three projects aimed to empower people with disabilities through promotion of craftsmanship (Heartwork Project), to advocate for mobility for all (The Rickshaw Project) and to develop institutions into equal opportunity employers, inclusive of people with disabilities (Yaqeen Project).

“Under the Rickshaw Project, the tri-wheeler is retrofitted accordingly to impairment of the driver who is also trained in running the vehicle. While in the Yaqeen project, we are working with the private sector to sensitise employers and make companies’ human resource policies inclusive,” he noted.

The organisation, he said, was also working with Nadra and helping people with disabilities to get special computerised national identity cards.

The initiative had been launched in Gilgit-Baltistan and eight districts of Sindh and being expanded.

High disabled population Pakistan, according to the information shared with the audience, is estimated to have more than 18m people with disabilities. This data outnumbered population of Hyderabad, Multan and Peshawar and is nearly the population of Karachi.

“We can’t progress unless we make these people part of our routine discourse. And, that won’t happen unless the society changes its mindset,” Mr Hashwani told the audience.

His speech was followed by a briefing by Amin Andani, programme manager at the NOWPDP, on the outcomes of the organisation’s initiatives and the design challenge.

Narrating how an adapted auto-rickshaw changed the life of a physically challenged person, he said Mr Abdullah, resident of Baldia town, who was being forced by his family to beggary, had been able to start his own small business once he started exploring the outside world on his own through his vehicle.

“People with disabilities are usually restricted to their homes. His story made us learn that mobility changes life.

“Many people with physical disabilities used tricycles and we found that they are facing a lot of problems while using them since the vehicle has design defects. They involve high exertion, are accident prone and very uncomfortable,” he said while explaining the idea behind the contest’s launch.

The competition running from January 1 to March 31, 2016, carried a prize money of Rs200,000, he said.

Later, Vishal Kumar and Mohammad Asif, both with physical disabilities, shared the problems disabled people face and urged the government to create facilities for them that could help them in their mobility.

The jury and the advisory panel for the contest include experts of international repute like inventor of Smart wheelchair and Associate Director of Alex Tung Memorial, Assistive Technology Laboratory, Standford University David L. Jaffe, former head of Accessibility, Transport Research Laboratory (UK) and recipient of William B. Graham Award Dr Cristopher Mitchell and Executive Director, Access Exchange International and Global Authority on Accessible Transportation Tom Rickert.

Secretary of transport Tuaha Farooqui and founding member of the Indus Valley of School of Arts and Architecture Shahid Abdullah also spoke.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2016