AROUND the world, the International Day of Disabled Persons is being marked with various stakeholders coming together to create a better and more inclusive world for people living with disabilities. According to the World Health Organisation, around 15pc of the global population suffers from some form of disability, while around 2pc to 4pc live with more severe and debilitating impairments. In Pakistan, the 1998 census found that 2.38pc of the population was living with disabilities, but this figure dropped to a mere 0.48pc with the 2017 census. Disability rights activists feel this statistic severely underrepresents their reality on ground, and instead cite WHO figures, which estimates that around 13.4pc of the total population suffers from some form of disability. Since the passage of the 18th Amendment, the responsibility of enacting legislation on disability rests with the provinces. While Sindh and Balochistan have passed new laws on the subject, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab have not. Meanwhile, the Islamabad Capital Territory Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2018, is yet to be presented before the National Assembly. It is imperative that such a large section of society not feel excluded from mainstream society, and lawmakers must work closely with activists and members of non-governmental organisations who have a clearer picture of what barriers confront people living with disabilities, whether in politics, employment or education.
Most recently, the Punjab government’s Special Education Department launched its new policy which aims to enrol more children in public schools by making the education system more inclusive and focusing on the various barriers that keep those living with disability away from their right to an education. According to studies cited by the programme, children with disabilities are less likely to go to school, and have a greater chance of dropping out, if they do, owing to stigmas and structural barriers. If successful, the data and research-driven model can also be adopted by other provinces that must strive towards greater inclusivity for those who are disabled.
Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2019