TODAY, on the International Day of Disabled Persons, one can say with some satisfaction that Pakistan has seen certain heartening developments on this front. On at least two occasions, the Supreme Court through its judgements recognised the inherent dignity of people with disabilities and their right to be treated as individuals capable of contributing to society. In July, the apex court ruled in a custody case that the mother’s disability did not prevent her from taking care of her child. In fact, it condemned that high court’s verdict — which had set aside a family court order to award custody to the mother — as being discriminatory. Then in August, the Supreme Court directed government personnel to discontinue using terms such as ‘disabled’, ‘physically handicapped’ and ‘mentally retarded’ in official correspondence, and rightly so, for such words perpetuate stigma. Separately, in an 11-page report, the apex court also ordered the federal and provincial governments to ensure that people living with disabilities get their due share in employment and are provided special facilities in public spaces and on transport. In September a joint session of parliament passed the ICT Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act.
The PTI government, to its credit, has been cognisant of the societal and practical handicaps that make life more difficult than it has to be for people living with disabilities. A number of initiatives have been announced for them, including free medical treatment at hospitals registered under the Sehat Insaf card scheme, along with the provision of free wheelchairs and white canes. The Peshawar BRT has separate tracks and ramps for them, and October saw Pakistan’s first smart road for visually impaired people inaugurated in Attock. Incremental progress is thus taking place, even though a fair amount of ground still has to be covered for us to become a society where people with disabilities are not living on the peripheries. Achieving that objective will signify the coming of age of this society as a whole.
Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2020