IT is unfortunate that continual state failure to preserve the rights of disabled persons across areas such as education, work and social security has exacerbated extreme inequalities. Given this context, it was hardly surprising that disabled persons protesting near the Sindh Assembly on Monday demanded that the government implement an increase in job quotas from 2pc to 5pc. This is also a promise the chief minister made last December. And, though the province has passed the Sindh Differently Abled Persons (Employment, Rehabilitation and Welfare) Amendment Bill, 2017, some months ago, stipulating exactly this increase, it appears the latter remains in cold storage. Political inertia and paying lip service to social justice are at the crux of this delay. Also, there can be no legislative implementation without creating by-laws and such. Adept at passing bills, Sindh passed similar legislation in 2014 (replacing the 1981 federal law) that also lapsed into oblivion. Such habitual callousness hardly befits a ruling party that vociferously claims to be a champion of the vulnerable.

Challenged with a litany of missed socioeconomic opportunities, disabled people often face poverty and societal discrimination; consider the lack of wheelchair access in workplaces and public transport as just one disincentive. Despite ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011, the state has not consolidated policies for tackling disabilities. Then, inaccurate data on disabilities renders it impossible to make interventions. The 2017 census puts the figure of disabled persons at less than a million in a population of over 207m — even the head of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics notes this is an ‘unrealistic’ figure because people with disabilities were counted only on the first day of the exercise in a random manner. Furthermore, the glaring lack of legislation deprives a proportion of our citizenry of full economic participation. The state must shift the discourse from sympathy to empathy towards disabled persons so that they can exercise their right to equal participation in society no matter where they stand on the spectrum of disabilities.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2017

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