THE fact that only 3,653 children with special needs, out of some 300,000 in Sindh, are registered with the government speaks volumes about the apathetic attitude of the state towards differently abled people. It is obvious that in our society, very few differently abled people are able to access education and opportunities for growth to hone their talents and become independent and productive members of society. Public and civic spaces, educational institutions and government offices are not designed to facilitate or accommodate people with disabilities, leading to their exclusion from mainstream society. The recent order by the Sindh High Court directing the provincial government to make an effort to provide facilities to the differently abled is a reminder of this grim reality. The two-judge bench stated that by not registering people with disabilities and special needs, and by not taking any steps for their inclusion and growth in society, the Sindh government was in effect closing the door of education on them.
According to different media reports, registered differently abled children are enrolled in 66 special schools set up across the province. In view of the total population of these children in the province the number of schools is very low. However, it also emerged that the department for empowerment of differently abled persons has been severely understaffed. Out of a total of 176 posts of BPS-17 for teachers and officials, only 50 positions were filled. Without trained human resource, the department will obviously encounter problems in establishing and operating new schools and vocational centres for children with special needs. The same is true for special education departments in the other provinces, which remain isolated, underfunded and understaffed, and therefore, unable to cater to the needs of differently abled children. In 2020, Punjab became the first province to introduce a special education policy focusing on the inclusion and economic development of children with special needs. Other provinces need to follow suit, while integrating special education projects into mainstream education and health initiatives.
Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2021