Persons with disabilities must be included and empowered

Today is the International day of persons with disabilities

On December 3, the world observes the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a day that aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development. The theme for this year is “Access to Information – Saving lives, Building Trust, Bringing Hope!”, which highlights the importance of ensuring that persons with disabilities have equal access to information and communication technologies, especially during the covid-19 pandemic and beyond.

According to the United Nations, there are an estimated one billion people living with disabilities worldwide, facing many barriers to inclusion in many key aspects of society. In Pakistan, the situation of persons with disabilities is even more challenging, as they face multiple forms of discrimination, stigma, poverty, and exclusion. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, 31 million people are experiencing disabilities, while NADRA’s records suggest that there are only 371,000 individuals with disabilities in Pakistan. According to the 2017 census, only 0.48 percent of the population had a disability in Pakistan, while the UNDP has estimated that nearly 6.2 percent of the Pakistanis have some form of disability. The Census data reveals that 55.7 percent of disabled people are found in Punjab, followed by 28.4 percent in Sindh, 11.1 percent in KP, 4.5 percent in Balochistan, and 0.3 percent in Islamabad.

Let us remember that persons with disabilities are not a burden or a charity, but a valuable and integral part of our society, who deserve respect, recognition, and rights. Let us ensure that they have access to information that can save their lives, build their trust, and bring them hope. Let us make Sindh a province where persons with disabilities can live with dignity, freedom, and justice for all

The low and inconsistent figures indicate the lack of reliable data and the underreporting of disability in Pakistan, which hampers the effective planning and implementation of policies and programs for the empowerment of persons with disabilities. Moreover, the existing legal and institutional framework for the protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities is inadequate and fragmented, as it does not conform to the standards and principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Pakistan ratified in 2011.

However, some positive steps have been taken by the provincial governments, especially by the Sindh government, to address the issues and challenges faced by persons with disabilities in the province. In 2018, the Sindh government enacted the Sindh Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act, which aims to give effect to the CRPD and to ensure the full and effective inclusion of persons with disabilities in the community. The Act provides for the establishment of an Authority for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, which is responsible for the formulation and implementation of policies, plans, and programmes for the welfare and empowerment of persons with disabilities in the province.  The Act also guarantees the rights of persons with disabilities to education, health, employment, social protection, accessibility, participation, and non-discrimination, and prescribes penalties for the violation of these rights.

Some of the notable initiatives taken by the Sindh government under the Act include:

– Increasing the employment quota for persons with disabilities from two percent to five percent in all public and private sector establishments.

– Issuing special driving licenses for persons with hearing impairment, enabling them to drive cars and motorcycles with the help of sign language interpreters.

– Introducing a Disability Assessment Certificate, which is a standardized and simplified document that certifies the type and degree of disability of a person, and facilitates their access to various services and benefits.

– Launching a web portal and a mobile application for the registration and verification of persons with disabilities, which also provides information on various schemes and facilities available for them.

– Providing free assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, crutches, hearing aids, and artificial limbs, to persons with disabilities through various distribution camps and centers.

These measures reflect the commitment and efforts of the Sindh government to empower and include persons with disabilities in the mainstream of society, and to ensure that they enjoy their rights and dignity as equal citizens. However, there is still a long way to go to achieve the full realization of the vision and objectives of the CRPD and the Sindh Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act. There is a need for more awareness, advocacy, and action from all stakeholders, including the government, civil society, media, private sector, and persons with disabilities themselves, to create an enabling and supportive environment for persons with disabilities in the province.

The Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPD), Government of Sindh, is a government department that is committed to enhance the quality of life of persons with disabilities and integrate them into mainstream society. The DEPD implements the Sindh Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act 2018, which aims to give effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to ensure the full and effective inclusion of persons with disabilities in the community. The DEPD provides various services for children and adults with disabilities, such as special education, vocational training, rehabilitation, assistive devices, registration, and legal protection. The DEPD also has a web portal and a mobile application for the registration and verification of persons with disabilities, which also provides information on various schemes and facilities available for them. The DEPD works in collaboration with the Sindh Persons with Disabilities Protection Authority (SPDPA), which is responsible for the formulation and implementation of policies, plans, and programs for the welfare and empowerment of persons with disabilities in the province. The DEPD strives to empower and include persons with disabilities in Sindh on equal basis with other citizens.

On this Universal Disable Day, let us join hands and voices to celebrate the achievements and contributions of persons with disabilities, and to renew our pledge to work together for their inclusion and empowerment in all aspects of life.

Let us remember that persons with disabilities are not a burden or a charity, but a valuable and integral part of our society, who deserve respect, recognition, and rights. Let us ensure that they have access to information that can save their lives, build their trust, and bring them hope. Let us make Sindh a province where persons with disabilities can live with dignity, freedom, and justice for all.

Pir Niaz Jan Sirhandi
Pir Niaz Jan Sirhandi
The writer is, V.P, Govt Special Education and Rehabilitation Complex, Karachi

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