LAHORE: Protest demonstrations by the disabled for the fulfillment of their demands have become an order of the day in Lahore and other cities of Punjab.

“When will the government realize that the people with special needs also need to be mainstreamed?” complains Niaz Hunzai, disabled music teacher at a private school.

“When will laws be formulated and implemented for us to achieve that status?”

Mr Hunzai says there is no appropriate care system for them. “We experience a lot of discrimination at different levels in our lives.”

His both legs have been paralysed due to polio since his childhood and in the wheelchair since then. He needs a full-time attendant to do everyday tasks. “I face difficulties in accessing health services as well as rehabilitation and welfare services.”

When asked to explain the issues, he and other people with special needs face, Mr Hunzai puts wheelchair access the number one issue. “There are no ramps in public buildings to facilitate us as most of the places are completely inaccessible for us,” he said.

Another issue he faces is of transport and mobility.

“Also, there are a few places where washrooms meant for a person with disabilities can be found,” he said. According to Pakistan Bureau of Statistic statistics, one million people in Pakistan are suffering from different kinds of disability as per the 2017 census.

“My disabled identity makes me feel like I am an alien to society,” says Rabia Ansari, 32, who has been limited to a wheelchair.

“For some reasons, people give strange looks to a female with disability. It is the kind of attitude that not only hurts but it ends up pushing many of us back inside home,” she said.

Nighat Ahmed, principal of the Government National Special Education School in Johar Town, says that it is the overall ignorant attitude by families and communities towards special children - especially at the initial age - that ends up in making the disability a much more complex issue. This is the situation in both rural and urban areas.

“Parents either ignore this problem, or intentionally hide the disability of their kids — probably due to stigma attached to it,” she says.

She further said parents should pay special attention to the needs of their special children instead of hiding their problems.

Ms Ahmad said the disabled struggled to face the myths attached to their disability.

“It is a myth that intelligence and skill wise a disabled and a non-disabled person are different. Disabled persons are not from another planet. They can compete with normal people in all departments; they can get married with non-disabled persons and live well,” she says while adding what we need to mobilize society, especially families to pressurize the government to seek help for the disabled community and mothers can play a key role in initial treatment and early exposure.

Milestone Society for the Disabled Project Director Hamza Ali says parents and society should encourage disabled children to go along with normal people and should take them to public places and events. “It will boost their confidence and they can fight the prevailing discrimination in society,” he said.

He said there were a few places and organizations where disabled people could get professional and medical help.

Milestone Society for Disabled spokesperson Ashar Niaz Virk said people with less disabilities were mostly recruited and prioritized in public sector on lower scale jobs ranging from one to four while upper scale jobs were not even advertised. Thousands of post were lying vacant in different public departments and the private sector.

Social Welfare Department Deputy Director Ashraf Janjua said the government was strictly implementing and monitoring three percent job quota for people with disabilities in the public and private sector in the province. “Social protection authority with help of small industries are also assisting disabled with cash and others necessary life running equipment,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2020

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