PAKISTAN’S first smart road for visually impaired people was inaugurated in Attock on Thursday. The 500-metre-long road will start from Main Road and lead up to the Blind School, which will undoubtedly make the journey of many students easier. The recently launched Peshawar BRT, too, includes separate tracks and ramps for people with disabilities. Both these examples highlight an effort to create more inclusive and accessible spaces for differently abled citizens, and must be replicated in other government and privately owned establishments, given that a large number of Pakistanis live with some form of disability, though the exact figure is contested.
Earlier in August, the Supreme Court ordered government officials to refrain from using words which could appear offensive to people living with disabilities, including ‘disabled’, ‘physically handicapped’ and ‘mentally retarded’, since such language perpetuates stigma. And in July, in an 11-page report, the apex court ordered the federal and provincial governments to ensure that people living with disabilities receive their due rights in employment, and are provided special facilities in public spaces and transport. The present PTI government, in particular, has announced a number of benefits for people living with disabilities, including free medical treatment at hospitals registered under the Sehat Insaf card scheme, along with the provision of free wheelchairs and white canes. Despite some gains made in recent years, however, there is a long road ahead in ensuring people living with disabilities lead lives of dignity, free from infrastructural and societal barriers, including prejudices about their competence. Unfortunately, the differently abled are far too often overlooked and do not receive due representation in public life. During the elections of 2018, for instance, people with disabilities reported difficulties in getting to the polling stations and casting their votes due to the lack of arrangements. Better legislation is needed; a step in that direction was taken with the passage of the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Bill, 2020, last month.
Correction: The original version of this editorial mentioned that the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Bill, 2020, had lapsed in May. However, the bill was passed in a joint session of parliament last month. The oversight is regretted.
Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2020