KARACHI, Dec 3 While admitting it was the government's duty to provide opportunities for disabled persons, Sindh Minister for Commerce and Industries Rauf Siddiqui announced that the Sindh government would form a task-force in the coming days for the welfare of the disabled.
He was speaking as chief guest at a seminar organized at a local hotel here on Wednesday by the Network of Organisations Working for People with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP) to observe the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which falls on Dec 3. The theme of the seminar was 'Access and employment.'
Mr Siddiqui, who was representing Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, who reportedly could not make it as he was chairing a cabinet meeting to review the city's law and order situation, further added that the job quota for disabled persons would be increased from the present two per cent to five per cent at the Sindh government level. Claiming that he would start by raising the quota in his own ministry, the industries minister urged the federal government to raise the quota as well.
He added that an amount of Rs500,000 would be given to the task-force on behalf of the Sindh government, while a plot would be allocated for the establishment of a building to house organizations working for the welfare of the disabled. Mr Siddiqui also said that a plot would be allocated in the Sindh Industrial and Trading Estate (Site) to impart job training to people with disabilities.
Speaking earlier, NOWPDP president Amin Hashwani urged the Sindh government to make all its buildings and schools accessible to the disabled, suggesting that relevant legislation be passed in this regard. He added that buildings already constructed should also be made accessible.
He said that the two per cent employment quota for people with disabilities should be implemented in letter and spirit.
Abid Shaban, the NOWPDP executive committee's vice-president, said that the disabled should be provided a level playing field and the attitudes, physical and communications barriers that hinder their progress should be done away with.
Terming the assumption that making buildings accessible to the disabled was too expensive as “nonsense”, he gave the example of the 12-storey income tax building near the Sindh Secretariat in Karachi, where two ramps were built for a few thousand rupees. “It costs very little if it is done right.”
He added that we in Pakistan should not be disheartened as even many developed nations had not achieved full accessibility for the disabled, but said that the first steps towards accessibility should be taken. He pointed out that though government figures put the number of disabled Pakistanis at about 2.5 per cent, unofficial estimates put the total between seven and 10 per cent.
Haroon Waheed, who heads the human resources department at a multinational corporation, said that the disabled should not be labelled such and should instead be referred to as people with limitations. He said that instead of pity, help and support for the disabled should start at childhood as building confidence at such a formative stage was key.
Comparing attitudes in western countries, he said that in Australia, as a disabled person he did not face any discrimination while he worked, studied, drove or played sports. “Employment (of the disabled) is challenging but with commitment from top to bottom and an action plan it can be tackled,” he added.
Ali Habib, representing a multinational bank, spoke of the programme his firm had initiated, in which 14 visually-impaired men and women had been employed in Karachi and Lahore as telemarketers. He said that the visually-impaired employees were not made to feel any different and the only special facilities they received were a pick-and-drop service, along with special computer software. Pointing out the competence of the special employees, he said where it took other employees four weeks to complete the training process, the visually-impaired employees completed the process in two weeks.
Mr Nooruddin, who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was 14, said that he felt as if his life was over when he got the news. However, with support from his family, he persevered and learned to “live and show others how to live.” He said he had been working since he was 14 and did everything from setting up a pakora stall to giving tuitions. Today, he said, he was giving tuitions to Masters students, writing columns in the papers and was a master trainer to other people with special needs.
He termed the support of his wife essential, saying the she was his “oxygen,” while he urged parents to “invest in disabled children.”