Disability is not an inability, it is diversity that needs inclusion from the people and the country
“There is only a 0.01% chance of you getting a job in this field,” Moin heard his teacher say after he was handed the diploma of a software developer.
This, however, did not demoralize him. With a bundle of 40 resumes, Moin set out. He dropped one at every software house he found in Karachi. After not hearing his email beep or his phone ring a single time in three weeks, he realized that the world will always see the ‘dis’ in his ability first.
Moin had a frail built, complemented by short hair and a round face. He was blind by birth and because of this very reason he had to fight his way out of school and college.
“The admission committee at Aptech was hesitant to give me a chance,” he said. “They said I couldn’t do it, but I proved them wrong.”
“Within three classes I took charge of everything and formed a team with classmates who did the graphics while I did the programming and coding,” Moin Khan said.
However, the biggest disappointment came to Moin through the corporate and government sector. He applied for multiple jobs in the sectors but remained unemployed for three years after his graduation. Why?
“They believed that my disability would become a hurdle in my job,” he recalled.
Pakistan is on the trajectory of growing from being an underdeveloped country to a developed country. However, some things remain unchanged.
Pakistan has only less than a million citizens with disabilities according to the 6th population census. However some put the figure at 20 million people, making that 10 per cent of the country’s population.
Although Pakistan has multiple laws for disabled people, such as the Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance, 1981, National Policy for Persons with Disabilities (2002), National Plan of Action for Persons with Disabilities, 2006 and The Accessibility Code of Pakistan 2006, these people still continue to face difficulties in multiple sectors across the country.
The Sindh government has recently passed a momentous disability law. The Sindh Empowerment of PWD Act XLVIII of 2018 is perhaps first meaningful effort in Pakistan to ‘give effect to’ the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
All disabilities have been defined in detail in the law, signaling a major change from earlier federal and provincial laws that recognised only four categories, physically impaired, visually impaired, hearing impaired and ‘mental retardation’.
The ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Act 2020 aims at making person with disabilities inclusive in the society. The Act provides a comprehensive legal framework to protect and promote the rights of people with disabilities in Pakistan.
However the implementation of these laws in reality is a far cry.
“The 5% and 2% employment quota is never actually filled and even if it is, it is given to people who are not disabled,” Fayyaz, a blind trainee at NOWPDP said. “With a bit of money and influence anybody can get a fake disability certificate made in Pakistan,” he added.
Sohail Asim, a blind man working at PTCL believes that due to widespread corruption, fully implementing these laws becomes impossible. “Also the government only seems to notice us on December 3rd every year otherwise we are a forgotten lot,” he said.
Asim also pointed out that most blind people remain unemployed because they don’t get proper education since the beginning.
“I was a literature student and we had a Phenology class which was a core course and I couldn’t do a few questions which had diagrams. I requested the professor, to take a theory question instead to which he said his rules don’t change for anybody and if I am blind then I shouldn’t have taken this course,” he recalled.
Yamna Ikaram, a visually impaired computer science student at the University of Karachi has had a similar experience. “Whenever we asked for some help from the teachers, they dismissed our concerns,” she said.
Naila Karim, communication manager at the civil society organization Family Educational Service Foundation (FESF) said that disabled persons don’t have the freedom to pursue a subject of their choice. “Even if they wish to pursue other subjects, they have no options as mainstream universities in Pakistan lack interpreters, which leaves them with the choice of studying a handful of subjects,” she said.
Even after all this difficulty, they do manage to get jobs but mainly as clerks in government sector or have to opt for other menial jobs in the corporate sector. Unfortunately, at all these places, these people are never treated equally.
There is no specific data on the employment status of people with disabilities, but a World Bank report estimates that 71 percent of disabled people in Pakistan are unemployed.
Although the private sector’s attitude has certainly changed, but there is still much to do.
Asima, an art teacher at the FESF, asserted that most disabled people are diligent and dexterous employees, but very few people recognize that. “These people are in no way lesser than any other normal working person,” she said.
“The private sector in Pakistan has been very accommodating; I learnt many things about my abilities at those jobs than I ever believed I could do,” said Amna Musharraf, suffering from Arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC) a hip dislocation. The disease makes it difficult to walk for her. She currently works in a US company and resides there.
On the other hand, the government sector has employed people with disabilities but the jobs are mostly record-based or clerical in nature.
PTCL employee Asim identified two major reasons behind it.
The first problem is that the government sector is entirely manual. The jobs available are something the blind people are unable to do. They can mostly do things with the help of assertive technology which only comes with digitalized systems.
The other problem lies with the blind people who don’t pursue education. Most of them don’t study after Intermediate and believe jobs should be given to them because of their disability. They fail to understand that if they don’t have the required skill and ability to understand the job nobody would give them work.
However, there are people who have defied rules and made their own path.
Imran Noor, a wheelchair user, designed a rickshaw which handicapped people like him could drive.
“I wanted to remove the tag of being a ‘nobody’ and eradicate the sympathy people had for me. A lot of organizations helped me which is how today I teach young people like me how to drive this rickshaw,” he said.
A bit of determination and defiance toward society led Noor to become a self-made man.
It is not like every normal person in Pakistan only just sympathizes. The youth has also taken it to themselves to help these people.
Two exemplary students are Hafsa Jamal, who made a pair of joggers that have a ‘sonic eye’ and can help the visually impaired in walking.
Meanwhile, Aqsa Ajmal, an industrial design graduate of NUST designed a machine called ‘Persew’ which helps visually impaired people sew clothes.
Her recent work was selected as one of the six finalists from all over the world for ‘Lexus Design Awards’. “Women who are differently-abled are one of the most discriminated segments of Pakistani society,” Ajmal said. “My aim with this is to make this machine affordable and give these talented people a chance to earn and make something out of them.”
The biggest challenge for any person with a disability in Pakistan is that normal people end up giving them sympathy instead of empathy. This even includes parents who are reluctant to accept and understand their child’s disabilities and encourage them to make something out of themselves.
“If an early diagnosis is made then things could be a lot better for children with dyslexia,” says Sajeer-ud-din who is a prominent actor and works for awareness of the disease.
This will only come with inclusion of these people in every way and in every place in Pakistan.
As Daulat Asif Visram, a founding member of the Karachi Vocational Training Center (KVTC), said, “Pakistan still awaits a time when we’ll shed all our biases aside and provide equal opportunities to differently abled people around us.”