Persons with disabilities: more issues

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 06.01.16

Disability is not equal to inability or incapability; disability is equal to variety or diversity. This
is the message of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) framed
by the United Nations in 2006, which became operational in 2008 and was ratified by
Pakistan in 2011. The CRPD’s preamble says that “Disability results from the interaction
between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder
their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” It means that
persons with disabilities (PWDs) are not disabled owing to impairments but because of
societal reactions (or inaction) to them. Hence, the problem lies with society (or culture),
which fails to see PWDs as adding to diversity. Against this background, besides the four
issues discussed in my last piece, ‘Persons with disabilities: the issues’ (Daily Times,
December 30, 2015), there are additional three issues.

The first issue is that society in Pakistan is generally exclusive (or restrictive) in nature. One
dimension of the exclusiveness is that it is fatalistic in its approach. Society generally
believes that disabilities are preordained and meant for unopposed acceptance. Another
dimension is that society on the whole venerates segregation and, to reinforce the same,
promotes hierarchies or layers; one layer is segmented from the other by economic
disparities, especially in urban areas. Clans and tribes further divide society, especially in
rural areas. The broader partitions still come through ethnic, linguistic and provincial
divisions rooted in the history of the area comprising Pakistan. A society in which splits are
entrenched and the resultant segregation is tenacious, thinking of militating against
seclusion seems like a mad man’s idea, unless society is evolved enough to transcend
these boundaries. Unfortunately, the Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation)
Ordinance of 1981 upholds segregation and is still extant through its provincial versions in
both Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Further, the ordinance enfolds the archaic and
battered models of charity and medicine resting on empathy and welfare. On the other
hand, for inclusion, the CRPD recommends social and rights-based models centred on
equality and independence of PWDs.

The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities (NPPD) 2002 envisioned that, by 2025, an
environment would be produced for “full realisation of the potential of persons with
disabilities through their inclusive mainstreaming”. To implement the policy, though the
National Plan of Action (NPA) 2006 was formulated, both Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
have not owned inclusion by introducing apposite legislation. With that, in the education
sector, the prospects of inclusive education are also frustrated despite the fact that, as
envisaged by the CRPD, the journey to establishing an inclusive society begins from family
and the path to inclusive society passes through the gates of inclusive education and
inclusive employment: inclusive family, inclusive education and inclusive employment
collectively engender an inclusive society.

The second issue is that society in Pakistan is generally prohibitive (or discouraging) in
nature. One dimension of prohibition is that society generally impedes interaction between
PWDs and non-PWDs (despite the fact that both are its members). Another dimension is
that society usually discourages communication between PWDs and the state. Society does
so by erecting barriers of two kinds: physical barriers such as environmental and non-
physical barriers such as attitudinal. By deploying physical barriers in terms of ramp-less
and lift-less access to buildings and transportation facilities, the possibilities of seeking
education, receiving vocational training and medical treatment, and getting house and
employment are taken away from PWDs, especially those confined to wheelchairs. Similarly,
by denying assistive devices to PWDs dependent on white sticks, glasses, hearing aids,
prosthetics and crutches, the chances of full and equal participation of PWDs in all spheres
of life (including access to information and communications) are denied.

By mounting non-physical barriers in terms of uttering derogatory and deriding remarks,
PWDs are prohibited from tapping their full potential. In this way, PWDs are forced to live a
dependent, quarantined life that is denounced by the CRPD, which promotes social and
rights-based models. Unfortunately, the 1981 Ordinance is oblivious of these dimensions of
prohibition even in its provincial versions. Nevertheless, the NPPD 2002 addresses this
issue but it is devoid of any legislative cover.

The third issue is that society in Pakistan is generally discriminatory (or prejudicial) in
nature. In our society, like several other societies in the world, there are three main groups
vulnerable to discrimination: PWDs, women and children. A woman with a disability bears
two-fold vulnerability to discrimination (i.e. one she is a female and second she is a PWD)
whereas a female child with a disability abides three-fold vulnerability. Multiple
discrimination inflicting one person (if one is from a minority community) invites state
protection more than that is offered to non-PWDs of society. Discrimination obliterates the
possibilities for the participation of PWDs in society’s activities even those related to sports
and recreation. Whereas the CRPD offers full protection to PWDs against all kinds of
discrimination by promoting the society and rights-based models, the 1981 Ordinance does
not address this issue whatsoever even in its provincial versions. Again, the NPPD 2002
addresses this issue but it is bereft of any legislative cover.

In short, legislation (even if through an amendment to the 1981 Ordinance) is required not
only to facilitate inclusion of PWDs into society but also to prevent their segregation at both
family and society levels. Secondly, legislation is required to assert obligations on non-
PWDs in society towards PWDs. Thirdly, legislation is required to obligate the state to have
a reciprocal access to PWDs. Additionally, the mass media, through mass awareness
campaigns, can play a role in easing the restrictive sense, diluting the prohibitive bonds
and eliminating the discriminatory attitude of non-PWDs towards PWDs. The last, the
Punjab Policy for PWDs 2014, which follows the CRPD in spirit, also needs a legislative
cover to be fruitful.

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