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A disabling environment

The problems of access, mobility and government neglect for the disabled people are real and need urgent attention

A disabling environment

“I am not one to feel sorry for myself because of a disability but I am made to feel so. I want to be treated as normal but I am reminded time and again that I am a special person. The credit goes to the entire system that discourages my mobility and makes everything inaccessible to me,” says Jahanzaib Zaki, 44, teacher at a federal government school in Lahore, who is wheelchair bound. “Everywhere I go, I am dependent on my attendant. I detest this situation.”

“Two months back I went to the Pakistan secretariat building Islamabad. There was no alternative to the staircase to reach the desired section. As the lift was out of order, two people lifted my wheelchair and made me cross all the stairs. I wept bitterly,” says Zaki.

The problem of mobility and the government neglect are real. Hina Shahid, member Special Persons Rights, an NGO, says that “even the much-trumpeted Lahore Metro Bus overlooked the basic riding arrangements for disabled persons. Last year, at the Ichhra station, I was shocked to see there were no ramps, special tiles for blinds or handrail. The escalator was out of order. Even the ticketing machines had accessibility issue.”

Persons with disabilities (PWDs), who make up 10 per cent of the total population of Pakistan, have been leading discriminated lives. They have been struggling to get those fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution.

According to the UN, more than one billion people of the world’s population have some form of disability and 80 per cent of them live in developing countries.

It is sad that in Pakistan, even the buildings of parliament house, the National Assembly, provincial assemblies, secretariats, civil courts, sessions courts, ministries and government departments do not have ramps, pathways, stairs, railing and handrail, entrances, corridors, rest rooms, vestibules and Braille that facilitate PWDs.

So much so that management of hotels, private hospitals, educational institutions, offices of enterprises and shopping malls mostly do not care to provide facilities for special persons.

“It gets quite embarrassing when it comes to using toilet as both government and private buildings do not have disabled-friendly toilets,” says Atiq Shahid, a bookbinder in Urdu Bazar Lahore, who remains on a wheelchair, expressing his dismay on a hospital visit.

Persons with disabilities (PWDs), who make up 10 per cent of the total population of Pakistan, have been leading discriminated lives. They have been struggling to get those fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution.

“Entrance of toilets is not wide enough to let the wheelchair in. Toilet commodes and their seating capacity are not designed as per the physical limitations of disabled people,” says Shahid.

Pakistan has many laws and policies to protect the rights of special persons like the Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance 198, National Policy for person with disabilities 2002 and National Plan of Action 2006. On October 25, 1994, Pakistan ratified the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) Convention 1983. In August 2011, Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which recognises issues and problems and rights of women and children with disabilities in Articles 6 and 7 respectively. In 2012, the Directorate General Special Education and Social Welfare (DGSE&SW) established a cell called UNCRPD Secretariat for the implementation of the Convention.

“All of these laws and policies prove to be cosmetic,” says Shahid Ahmed Memon , Chairman Pakistan Disabled Foundation (PDF) laments while talking to TNS. “Meanwhile, most means of travelling are still challenging for special persons. Public transport does not cater to the needs of the disabled.”

“Two private airlines–Shaheen Air and Airblue– stay unwelcome to wheelchair access. They also never provide attendant to disabled persons. In case family member attends the PWD, toilet use becomes horrible task,” he reveals.

Shaheen Airline official confirmed that airline policy does not entertain any disabled passenger who cannot walk. “We regret that services to facilitate PWD during flight are not available,” he points out.

Memon informs the government constructed the first-ever park for disabled children, especially visually impaired, in sector G-7, Islamabad. “It features a fountain, a sandpit, wind chimes, herbs and fragrant plants that will give an experience based on senses of sound, touch and smell but forgot how special persons will reach there. As a result the park wears a deserted look. Nobody consulted us and other NGOs working for the rights of disabled people.”

Institute of Social Justice (ISJ), local NGO, registered with the United Nations-DESA as a civil society organization, in its report says, “The Constitution of Pakistan is silent about the rights of the persons with disabilities.” Special Talent Exchange Programme (STEP), a cross disability organization established in 1997, views Pakistan as desperately in need of a law to sue those who do not care for special features for disabled people while constructing buildings.

It is important to understand that these facilities should be made available as a matter of right. “Special persons ask for their rights instead of pity, welfare, charity, discounts, special education and quotas,” says Zaynab Abedin of Network of Organisations Working for People with Disability (NOWPDP).

“Since these people are deprived of access to buildings, parking lots, parks, recreational spots with meager transport facilities, how can they be integrated in the mainstream. We are also struggling to make polling stations accessible to special persons during elections,” she says. “We recently signed an MOU with the Institute of Architecture (IoA) to ensure compliance of building code.”

Accessibility Code of Pakistan 2006, minimum legal requirement and regulations formed by government to ensure easy and safe access to PWD, has laid down all space standards, design guidelines and building bylaws to make the environment friendly for disabled people. It says that they should have access to at least one route which is unobstructed, illuminated and weather-protected. Its width space shall not be less than 48 inches with handrail and level drop of more than 18 inches from adjoining ground surface. Wheelchair user should have those walkways. Sidewalk pavement and footpaths should be 48 inches wide. All marked pedestrian crossing on roads should be provided with curb ramps and detectable floor paving. They say that parking lots must have two percent of total car parking spaces for the disabled.

Zahida Hameed Qureshi, President Society for Special Persons (SSP) seems hopeful. “Our campaign launched in 2011 has produced the desired results. Multan metro bus services are now aligned with facilities required by disabled people. At least seven government buildings have complied with the accessibility code of Pakistan 2006. Buildings of public and private banks are more accommodating of special persons following the instruction of State Bank of Pakistan.”

Yasir Habib Khan

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