Disability is a word that can have multiple meanings for different cultural and social contexts. Unfortunately for us here in Pakistan, disability is seen as being synonymous with a serious lack of adequate mental or physical capabilities and is seen as a negative factor.
This has a lot to do with a lack of proper understanding of what it means to be disabled and truthfully it is hard to define the term because each person’s experience with their own or a loved one’s disability is different and complex. However, on a whole most of the social, cultural and economic impacts are quite similar in terms of education and employment opportunities.
Lets begin with a universally accepted idea of what a disabled person is termed as. According to the Disability Discrimination Act, a person can identify as being disabled if their mental or physical impairments put long term limitations and effects on their ability to perform daily activities and tasks. Further it categorizes them as those individuals that “have a mental or physical impairment”, that the “impairment has an adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities” and that “the adverse effect is substantial and long-term (meaning it has lasted for 12 months, or is likely to last for more than 12 months or for the rest of the person’s life)”.
The World Health Organization defines disability as, “Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Thus disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.”
In a recent survey report by the Government of Pakistan, an estimated 3,286,630 of the entire population were people living with disabilities (PWD). The kinds of disabilities taken into consideration included both mental and physical impairments such as being Blind, Deaf/Mute, Crippled, Insane, Mentally Retarded and or having Multiple disabilities.
In a 2014 report produced by the British Council on the experiences of people with special needs and those with disabilities in Pakistan, the results and findings were a bit unsettling but not surprising. As per the report the main issue is the way our culture attaches sympathetic attitudes with such people and that these negative attitudes make it increasingly difficult for them to find employment, educational opportunities or even a life partner. Further more, the underlying issue for all these problems is that there is no strong legal framework or policies in the country that would support persons with disabilities.
However, things are changing as more and more awareness comes to the nation thanks to the digital age, but to eradicate regressive attitudes towards such individuals, societal changes are needed. Which is why we feel that there are many positive steps that individuals can take on their own accord to make society far more inclusive for such people.
The first step is always education. There is a dire need to educate the importance of social inclusion of PWD within schools and to emphasize that they are no different in terms of dreams and passions. We need to help support and promote ventures and initiatives dedicated to correcting and changing certain stereotypes associated with PWD such as that they are aggressive, volatile or dangerous to others.This can be done by donating to such causes and/or volunteering your time and energy to them. The next step is to make public spaces disability friendly and accessible. This can start from separate bathrooms for PWD and even with more accessible air travel.
Another important issue for any sort of minority is representation. When we see someone like us on the news, in the boardroom or at the senate, that goal becomes much more attainable and something worth striving for. We see many talented disabled actors and actresses but the roles that should essentially be for them are given to able bodied people. The election or support of a candidate with disabilities means that they understand their issues better and can even help bring change at a national level.
Ultimately there is a lot we can do as individuals and as a nation to ensure that no one is left behind or discriminated against simply because they are different.