Monday, December 5, 2016

New strategies can renew hope for Pakistan’s five million disabled

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

“We are running successful businesses, leading civil rights organizations and inspiring students in schools,” members of the public with disabilities spoke at a seminar on December 2 at the Aga Khan University (AKU), Karachi, 

The strategies to prevent injuries that cause disabilities, initiatives to broaden access to rehabilitative services and steps to make educational services more inclusive were discussed at the event celebrating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. In Pakistan, five million people suffer from some form of disability. 

“Yet less than 1 in 5 of the country’s persons with disabilities (PWD) can access the social and educational support they need to thrive. Only 1 in 7 receive the help they need to participate fully in the workforce and just 1 in 10 have access to rehabilitative services that can help them recover.” 

“If the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members, then Pakistan has much more to do on this front. We can make a small start by ensuring that facilities for wheelchair users are present in all public spaces,” Dr Mohammad Wasay, professor of neurology at AKU, pointed out. 

The speakers at the event noted that the 2002 National Policy for Persons with Disabilities calls for the creation of an environment that provides full support to PWDs by 2025. 

They reckoned that much work still needs to be done to fulfill the government’s policy goals and also drew attention to the theme of this year’s world day Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want which refers to international commitments under the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. 

“Pakistan is committed to the global agenda and there are 11 specific references to persons with disabilities in the Sustainable Development Goals, under Goals 4, 8, 10, 11 and 17. These goals call for access to quality education, steps to reduce inequality, strategies to promote inclusive economic growth, initiatives to make communities and cities accessible to all, and formal efforts to track the impact of programmes on the most vulnerable populations.” 

“Support for these goals is needed across all sections of society so that Pakistan adopts policies that support PWDs and creates an environment that enables them to achieve their full potential,” Dr Wasay added. 

Outlining the steps that can help prevent disabilities and create an inclusive society, experts called on members of civil society, welfare organizations and the government to collaborate to introduce three types of measures. The first is to improve the enforcement of road traffic laws on speed limits, rash driving and mandatory helmet wearing that the results in one million trauma injuries a year in the country. 

About 10 per cent of these injuries, which affect the brain and spinal cord, lead to disabilities which can be prevented by ensuring that traffic laws are obeyed. 

A second initiative that needs to be taken is within hospitals, said speakers. Many types of disabilities related to childhood development delays, sensory impairments and motor disabilities can be treated through rehabilitative programmes, therapies, and the provision of orthopaedic devices. 

Unfortunately, these vital services are not available in most public sector hospitals. Experts said the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has taken the lead in this area by ensuring the presence of rehabilitative services at every district level public sector hospital and urged other provincial governments to follow KP’s example. 

Commenting on the importance of rehabilitative services, Javed Sheikh, CEO of HR consultancy e-square, spoke of the severe spinal cord injuries in 1995 that left him paralysed from the waist down. 

“After my injury, I went through 25 days of rehabilitation and occupational therapy which helped me to understand how to return to daily tasks at home and work. The therapy enabled me to return to living my life. Today, I continue to lead the company I founded in 2006, 11 years after my disability. I may be in a wheelchair but I can go wherever I please and I am independent.” 

Dr Wasay also mentioned the need for public awareness initiatives to help in the early detection and treatment of diseases such as stroke and diabetes that can cause disabilities. 

He explained that stroke could cause paralysis while diabetes can result in vision loss, renal issues and complications requiring amputation. 

Finally, speakers also stressed how professional bodies, the media and public sector stakeholders can play an important role in helping the disabled access higher education. Nasimuddin, an associate professor at the Government College for Women, Sharea Liaquat, who is legally blind, said: “There are many institutions devoted to supporting the education of those with special needs but they lack the funds and workforce to make a difference. Scholarships and reserved seats for the disabled can empower PWDs to achieve their potential.” 

“The government can also help by conducting a census of PWDs so that they can understand that there are many PWDs who are capable of excelling in school and in the workplace. In addition, we also need the electronic media to profile successful people with disabilities so that people believe that we can play a useful role in society.” 

Javed Sheikh also highlighted how support among one’s immediate family and colleagues plays an important role in adjusting to the new reality and in encouraging PWDs to take charge of their lives. 

“I was working as the regional sales manager of a large telecommunications company when my spinal cord injury meant that I had to use a wheelchair. I remember the CEO of the company sending me a letter assuring me that I was an integral part of the organisation. My colleagues and immediate family were also very encouraging in the early days. When you give people such a harmonious and encouraging environment it empowers them to take charge of their lives and overcome any obstacle.”  
Other speakers on the day included deaf businessman Khursheed Akhtar, the President of the Deaf and Dumb Association, Aamir Nizami, a patient with multiple scelerosis who manages a retail business, Mohsin Kaimkhani, Director, Revenue, of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board, who is paralysed from the waist down, and Nazir-ul-Hasan who earns a living as a rickshaw driver despite limb disabilities caused by polio.