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A physically challenged person is being helped to take a seat at the TechCamp.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
A physically challenged person is being helped to take a seat at the TechCamp.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: A country cannot progress without devising ways to cater for the needs of disabled persons and making them part of the mainstream of society and workforce, United States Consul General Grace Shelton said on Saturday.

She was speaking to participants after inaugurating the US government-sponsored two-day TechCamp here on Saturday.

Organised by the US Consulate General in Karachi in collaboration with Network of Organisations Working for Peoples with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP) and digital media company East River, the camp is aiming at providing learning opportunities and teaching income-generating techniques to the disabled with the help of social media.

Ms Shelton said, “I believe in providing equal opportunities to all as disabled persons can play an active role in uplifting society which we all are striving for.

“Technology and social media not only help us communicate faster and but also help in amplifying the needs of physically challenged persons. Their messages reach millions in seconds.

US consul general inaugurates two-day TechCamp

“We have the recent example of #MeToo campaign in front of us which proved how powerful the digital media has grown.

“Inclusion of people with disabilities in society is an integral part of promoting basic human rights and the US supports all efforts to remove barriers associated with disability.”

Amin Hashwani, the president of NOWPDP, said: “Empowering the disabled is one of the best social investments a government can ever have. Such persons are potential asset, not a liability as they can play an active part in improving the GDP of a country.

“The recent population census said that about one to two per cent population of the country is disabled. Without bringing those on board prosperity cannot be achieved.

“Policymakers can’t allocate reso­urces if they are not fully aware of the figures and the challenges attached to them. They should invest more for the disabled.”

Speaking about the degrading mindset in society, he said, “There are some social taboos linked with disability and people consider it a divine challenge. We have to change this thinking.

“Don’t feel pity for these people but make them part of an active society as no country can progress without their help.”

He added, “Creating awareness about anything is an easy job while changing perceptions is a difficult task.”

About discouraging social surroundings, he said, “These, in fact, push these fellows further back. Our buildings, libraries and offices should be accessible to all with proper ramps and elevators. This way nobody would consider himself or herself disabled.”

Faizan Syed, founder and CEO of East River, while throwing light on how digital media could benefit the disabled, said: “It allows you two-way communication. You express your views and get immediate feedback. This kind of communication is not possible with TV or newspaper.

“It even allows you to choose your audience and provides you the cheapest way to reach millions and billions of people.

“One can even measure his success on digital media. If you have more followers on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media site, it shows how successful you are.”

Regarding the use of digital media in Pakistan, he said, “About 30 million people use Facebook in the country and most of them are below the age of 24 years.

“As Pakistan provides one of the cheapest rates for 3G and 4G networks in the entire region, including India and Bangladesh, we should take full advantage of it.”

TechCamps are public diplomacy programmes hosted in the Bureau of International Information Programmes at the US Department of State.

The department has so far conducted more than 60 TechCamps all over the world since 2010, training more than 3,200 participants from more than 110 countries.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2018