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December 3, 2020

Dealing with disability

Editorial

 
December 3, 2020

Today marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Pakistan, according to the last census conducted in the 1990s, has a differently-abled or disabled population making up about two and a half percent of its total population. While this figure showed a downturn in 2017, it is believed this is due to errors in data collection rather than a true reduction in the number of the disabled. A comprehensive survey to determine the number of disabled or differently-abled people in our country – and what kind of disability they suffer – has never been undertaken in any scientific manner.

Pakistan’s poor record on handling disability should be a topic of nationwide concern; instead, disability remains a stigma in our part of the world. Making the public more aware about disability and the need to assist those who suffer it in one form or the other would be a good starting point towards bringing about change. This has to be done as quickly as possible. We know that due to genetic conditions, the rate of deaf people in the country is extremely high. While some schools run programmes which cater specifically to these children, there are too many who are left out in the cold or literally out of the mainstream. Combined learning at mainstream schools is also something that must be considered more seriously and at greater depth. While examples from other countries show that in many cases it is perfectly possible, Pakistan has not moved sufficiently towards such learning and in schools where it has been introduced there have been instances of disabled children being bullied by their peers, or even by teachers. The same is true of the workplace quota set by the government for disabled people, which is often not met by corporations or even by government entities.

As is the case in other developing countries we also need more data and reporting about disabled people and students. It is quite possible that many kinds of disabilities, such as learning or emotional problems, as well as autism or other syndromes of a similar nature are not recognized either by parents or medical teams in settings outside large cities. We then need to do far more to in the first instance accurately monitor and log disabilities of various kinds. Only when this data is available can we proceed further and work out strategies to develop mechanisms that can enable them to live within the mainstream community and seek support from it.