Thursday June 13, 2024

Equal opportunity

By Editorial Board
April 29, 2021

Physically challenged persons in Pakistan do not get a fair deal. Their basic needs remain unfulfilled and society at large ignores them as if their hardships are not worth paying attention to. Recently, there have been at least two events that need our attention and comments. One, President Dr Arif Alvi chaired a vice-chancellors’ online meeting on April 21 that highlighted the issue that no quota for disabled persons is allocated in engineering universities of the country. Two, physically challenged persons staged a protest in Ghalanai, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and demanded the government provide them financial assistance. These issues are not confined to just one province or area, it is a matter of concern all across Pakistan. There are minimal job opportunities for differently abled people and employers do not consider them suitable. If there is no quota for persons with disabilities in engineering universities, they are unable to get admission and continue their education to a higher level.

Apparently, the Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) decided in 1974 that it would not reserve any special seats for the disabled. Unfortunately, that unsound decision is still in force though the world has progressed a lot during the past half a century in matters of equitable opportunities for special people. It is good that the president is himself taking an interest in this issue so that some injustices meted out to the disabled in the country can be rectified. The president was right in saying that there was a need to look into the medical field too in which people with disabilities are being neglected. Then there is the issue of disability certificates that such people have to get from the provincial governments to claim some benefits or jobs that should ideally be treated as their fundamental rights. Some universities do offer admissions to students with disabilities in light fields only, and even for that it is not easy for them to get the disability certificates. In the absence of a universally accepted definition of disability, the bureaucracy creates hurdles in issuing certificates on various pretexts.

The PEC must revisit its earlier decision and after reconsideration must come up with a policy for the differently-abled in the country that may help in eliminating – or at least reducing – discrimination against them in the country. For those with severe physical challenges, the government must arrange for them not only financial assistance but also skills and some basic machinery, so that they can earn their livelihood in a decent and respectable manner. Governments at all tiers of governance must take the problems of the disabled seriously and try in earnest to resolve them.