Breaking a cycle of dependence

December 3, 2023

Breaking a cycle of dependence


he News on Sunday: In your perspective, what are the major barriers in Pakistan that contribute to the economic exclusion of persons with disabilities?

Shafiq-ur Rehman: The economic exclusion of PWDs in Pakistan stems from certain societal misconceptions. The prevailing ignorance regarding disabilities, rooted in physical norms, curbs understanding. Mobility and communication are the key barriers to overcoming this. By addressing these, the unjust exclusion based on physical differences can be eradicated. A person’s essence extends beyond physical attributes.

The focus should be on providing tools for mobility and communication to empower the PWDs. It is imperative to acknowledge diversity, dismantle misconceptions about inclusivity and break the limitations imposed on the PWDs for their economic participation.

TNS: In some developed countries, there are customised employment opportunities based on the individual’s abilities. In what ways can we create similar job opportunities here?

SR: Creating job opportunities for the PWDs calls for a shift from charity-focused perspectives to recognising their inherent economic potential. Most developed nations customise employment based on individual abilities. Pakistan too can follow that model. Beyond disability, everyone plays a role in economic activity by consuming goods. Manufacturers link these aspects to the economy, emphasising the monetary value of each person.

The current disconnect stems from certain societal weaknesses, not any individual incapacity. It is essential to create tailored jobs that recognise and leverage the unique strengths of the PWDs. This is the only way to enable inclusion so that the society is more equitable.

TNS: Can you describe some successful models or initiatives from other countries where economic inclusion for persons with disabilities has been effectively addressed. How can these be adapted in Pakistan?

SR: Japan’s innovative model since 1986 has embodied successful economic inclusion for PWDs. Five million people with various disabilities are thus engaged in jobs designed for them. These range from housing and counselling to independent living programmes. Self-sustainability is the key. This model not only creates meaningful employment but also reshapes societal perceptions.

TNS: There is an argument that limited financial resources hinder economic inclusion of PWDs in Pakistan. How do you view this claim?

SR: Limited financial resources are not the primary obstacle. The real issue is the mismanagement and diversion of resources by the government, which leaves a substantial majority underserved. The PWDs require amenities as basic as mobility devices and accessible facilities, nothing extravagant.

Established in 1993, Milestone pioneers the cause of persons with disabilities, advocating independent living and breaking barriers. In an exclusive interview with The News on Sunday, Shafiq-ur Rehman, the Milestone president, sheds light on economic inclusion, policy changes and collaborative strategies to empower and integrate PWDs into the society. Excerpts:

The government should prioritise allocating resources effectively. It must ensure that the PWDs receive essential support, like wheelchair provision, communication devices and livelihood opportunities. This could cultivate genuine inclusion and prevent them from resorting to beggary due to inadequate assistance.

TNS: What policy changes do you believe are necessary to prioritise the economic integration of persons with disabilities in the national agenda?

SR: Policies should focus on establishing small-scale production units and empowering the disabled community. In neighbourhoods with 10 percent disability prevalence, locals should come together, identify needs and utilise tax funds for support.

It is crucial to ensure communication and mobility, allowing PWDs to take part in economic activities. This not only acknowledges their potential but also actively supports their meaningful contribution to the economy.

TNS: How can the private sector in Pakistan be incentivised to actively engage in creating job opportunities for persons with disabilities?

SR: We need to recognise that 10 to 15 percent of all individuals have various disabilities. All of them are valuable consumers. Identifying them as consumers with their diverse needs is identifying a significant market. In addition to benefitting the economy, this offers opportunities for service providers and manufacturers.

For instance, nearly 3.4 million individuals in Pakistan need wheelchairs. The demand for wheelchairs, as well as white canes, communicators and personal assistants is substantial. It has the potential to create jobs for at least 1.2 million people. Businesses can contribute to economic growth as well as encourage inclusivity by tapping into this market.

TNS: How can collaborations between organisations like Milestone and government institutions be strengthened to create an effective approach to address economic disparities for persons with disabilities?

SR: The government can establish independent living centres in communities with a focus on disabled individuals. Financial incentives tied to employment percentages can also stimulate local economies, creating a self-sustaining cycle of social engagement and economic growth. This can ensure that funds circulate within the national economy and there is no substantial drain. This will also promote inclusivity and income generation for disabled individuals.

TNS: What long-term strategies can the government work on to help organisations like Milestone achieve economic independence for PWDs?

SR: Instead of merely procuring items like uniforms, the government should establish industries for PWDs, providing opportunities for manufacturing and employment. Following successful examples like Japan’s Sun Industries in Oita can motivate the establishment of specialised manufacturing units. The government can help them break the cycle of dependence and enable them to be productive and contribute to the society.

The interviewer is a freelance contributor

Breaking a cycle of dependence