Socio-Economic inclusion of PWDs

Towards an Inclusive, Accessible & Sustainable Pakistan

In 1992, the United Nations declared 3 December the “International Day of Persons with Disabilities”. This year the day focused on the challenges, barriers and opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It highlights the fact that PWDs are among the most affected population amid this pandemic. Currently, the world population is approximately 7 billion and more than one billion people or approximately 15 percent of the world’s population, live with some form of disability. Among those one billion people, 80 percent are living in developing countries. PWDs often lack access to education, healthcare, communication, transportation, financial services and employment opportunities in developing countries. These challenges have been magnified during this pandemic due to the marginalisation, discrimination, vulnerability, reduced access to various public and private sector and financial exclusion of PWDs in developing countries.

Pakistan is also facing serious issues and lapses in creating a socio-economic inclusive society for the marginalised PWD segment of the community. Pakistan is lacking accurate statistical data of PWDs which intensifies the problems for this marginalized segment of society since it deprives them of their due rights according to their representation in society. Every public and private organization should be required to report the number of PWD employees in order to improve the accuracy of this data. According to some estimates, Pakistan has approximately 20 million PWDs amounting to 10 percent of the country’s population. In line with the theme of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, it is time that Pakistani society transitions from a culture of sympathy or socio-economic exclusion of PWDs to a socially and financially inclusive system for this segment. The marginalisation of this critical societal segment is not only creating educational and social barriers for PWDs but also a financial burden for Pakistan. The country is losing US$12 million every day due to the exclusion of PWDs from the mainstream economy. PWDs are not being given their due rights in Pakistan which is apparent from their frequent protests for the attainment of their rights.

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To ensure the formation of an inclusive society, we need to eliminate all forms of stigma and discrimination that prevent people with disabilities from achieving their true potential. These members of society should be allowed to contribute to the country’s socio-economic development. The Government of Pakistan took an important step in this regard through the ‘Rights of PWD Act 2020’ to increase the access of PWDs to basic services, including health, education, employment, transportation, and communication. The State Bank of Pakistan has also taken a good initiative by issuing a policy to enhance the financial inclusion of PWDs. The Government of Pakistan has envisioned creating a societal structure based on the principles of ‘Riyasat-e-Madina’. Such a society requires the creation of a synergistic blend of various services customized according to the needs of the PWDs through public-private partnerships. The Social Welfare Department should play its role in this regard by facilitating the development of PWDs units at the provincial and federal level. It can collaborate with the United Nations Organization to establish vocational training centres and other initiatives for the PWDs.

The Government of Pakistan issues disability certificates for the PWDs through which they can have access to various services and benefits. However, the process of acquiring this certificate is not optimal if observed from the viewpoint of a person with a disability, or his or her caretakers. It requires physical visits, sometimes several, to even initially submit the certificate application. This process should be digital with online application submission followed by a single physical visit by the person with a disability for the assessment by the doctors’ panel.

These steps towards the socio-economic inclusion of PWDs can help in the attainment of UN-SDGs 2030 through reducing poverty, hunger, inequality, and climate change. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that people with disabilities are included in the country’s mainstream sectors and given the opportunity to contribute to the sustainable development of Pakistan. It is when all the segments of society work towards a common purpose, that countries can prosper in a sustainable manner. Every organization will have to play its part in the creation of an inclusive, accessible and sustainable Pakistan for the PWDs by providing employment opportunities and services to this segment. 

Insurance health cards should be provided to registered PWDs on priority basis and targeted initiatives should be launched for assisting the PWDs under the “Pakistan Ehsaas” programme. Every public and private educational institute should provide a fixed admission quota and reduction in fees for PWD students. Similarly, physical and assistive technological infrastructure should be made available for the facilitation of PWDs at educational institutions, restaurants, offices, public transportation and various public places. The construction of physical infrastructure for PWD facilitation can be ensured by mandating it in the building map approval process of commercial buildings. The Ministry of Human Resources and Labor department should ensure employment opportunities for people with a disability. The employment quota for PWDs should be increased to ensure optimal economic participation of this societal segment.

The Government of Pakistan can provide special packages for PWDs in various government initiatives like the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme. The government can provide further concessionary rates to disable employees for availing of the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme. A special budget can be dedicated to the various initiatives aimed at the socio-economic inclusion of PWDs.

The banking sector of Pakistan can play a pivotal role in the socio-economic inclusion of the PWDs. The SBP has led the way by taking the first step towards financial inclusion for PWDs. While some PWDs have challenges so severe that economic participation is not feasible and ill-advised, the vast majority have the capacity to utilize and benefit from banking services. The banking industry can target such individuals with customized products and services such as personal and auto loans with concessionary interest rates, waiver of various bank service charges such as cheque book, ATM card issuance, locker rental charges, and so on for PWD account holders, attractive interest rates for deposit, assistive infrastructure and technology in branches and ATMs such as the construction of ramps, availability of essential forms and documents in braille and PWD-supportive mobile applications. Green Banking through the adoption of digitalized banking products and services for PWDs can play an important role in this regard. Banks can facilitate PWDs through various green services such as mobile banking vans that can provide banking services at the customer’s doorstep. The SBP can launch financing schemes at concessionary rates such as the ‘Prime Minister Kamyab Jawan Scheme’ for PWDs customers to facilitate their financial inclusion and provide them earning opportunities.

These steps towards the socio-economic inclusion of PWDs can help in the attainment of UN-SDGs 2030 through reducing poverty, hunger, inequality, and climate change. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that people with disabilities are included in the country’s mainstream sectors and given the opportunity to contribute to the sustainable development of Pakistan. It is when all the segments of society work towards a common purpose, that countries can prosper in a sustainable manner. Every organization will have to play its part in the creation of an inclusive, accessible and sustainable Pakistan for the PWDs by providing employment opportunities and services to this segment.

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By Assoc. Prof. Dr. Fathyah Hashim and Prof. Dr. Azlan Amran

Syed Asim Ali Bukhari
The writer is pursuing his PhD in Green Banking from the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Penang, Malaysia and can be reached at [email protected]

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