Awaiting policy protection

Discrepancies in perceptions and policy responses reveal fundamental gaps in understanding inclusivity

Awaiting policy protection


he challenges faced by persons with disabilities are frequently overlooked, mostly through inadvertent neglect of their needs and experiences. Consider: a person wishes to access the second floor of a building but there are no stairs. A feeling of unacceptance arises. The absence of a mere staircase becomes a barrier, an impediment that renders the space inaccessible. Now, imagine a similar situation but for someone using a wheelchair: there’s a similar desire to reach the second floor yet there is no elevator or ramp. The barrier is not just a matter of inconvenience; it symbolises exclusion and an inability to participate fully in societal activities.

The issue is not limited to an absence of accessible infrastructure. Imagine being in a situation where a person with a disability doesn’t have access to a wheelchair or any other essential assistive device that would greatly improve their mobility and independence. This lack of access doesn’t just hinder their physical movement, it also creates an emotional and psychological barrier intensifying feelings of isolation and exclusion.

A significant population of persons with disabilities in Pakistan find themselves restricted to their homes, enduring difficult circumstances, either due to the lack of access to assistive devices or societal stigmas.

Financial hardship is another major obstacle in Pakistan for obtaining assistive devices. Many families facing economic hardships struggle to afford the necessary equipment or aids for their disabled family members. Societal stigmas and stereotypes about disability can further exacerbate this situation. Families, influenced by these negative perceptions, might hesitate to provide assistive devices to their family members with disabilities. Consequently, a person with disability is denied access not only to physical mobility but also to social interaction and inclusion.

While the absence of stairs might immediately strike us as abnormal and unacceptable, the lack of ramps, elevators and assistive devices often fails to elicit the same reaction despite causing equivalent hurdles for those with disabilities. The discrepancy in our perceptions and responses reveals a fundamental gap in our understanding of inclusivity. What might seem as a minor inconvenience for some is a representation of exclusion for others. The needs of individuals with disabilities are frequently marginalised or ignored, leading to an environment that perpetuates inequality and restricts their participation in various facets of life.

Besides facing accessibility challenges, persons with disabilities frequently encounter deprivation of fundamental rights, such as education, healthcare, privacy, marriage and employment. Addressing the needs and rights of persons with disabilities involves a fundamental shift in perspectives.

While challenging societal stigmas is crucial, the cornerstone for substantial change lies within robust policy frameworks and effective legislation. Legal measures play a vital role in ensuring tangible and lasting improvements in the lives of persons with disabilities, guaranteeing their rights and fostering a more inclusive society.

Unfortunately, persons with disabilities are not accurately accounted for in Pakistan. There is a lack of precise statistical representation. While international surveys suggest that 10 to 15 percent of the population experiences a disability, Pakistan’s 2017 census reported only 0.48 percent people with disabilities. Intriguingly, the 1998 census had recorded 2.49 percent of the population as having disabilities. This raises significant questions about data reliability and underscores a notable issue in accurately enumerating the disabled population in Pakistan.

A document available on the website of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics shows that the total population of persons with disabilities in Pakistan is: 3,286,630. It remains unclear whether this data pertains to the 2023 census or another survey. According to another document, Disability Details from NADRA (Till 28-02-2021), available on the PBS website, there are a total of 371,833 NADRA-registered individuals with disabilities.

People with disabilities face a long and complex process to secure a disability certificate and then a CNIC with a disability sign. This means that they have to endure many difficulties just to obtain their basic identification. As a result, the total number of people with disabilities is higher than the NADRA registered count.

The international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted in 2008. Pakistan ratified it in 2011. It is imperative to highlight that prior to 2020 there was a notable absence of a federal law to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities. This absence of a specific legal framework can leave a significant gap in ensuring the protection of rights and accessibility needs required for this population.

The government of Pakistan introduced the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2020, aiming to secure equal rights for individuals with disabilities, particularly concerning education, healthcare and employment within the Islamabad Capital Territory. The ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2020, covers key aspects and rights of persons with disabilities including equality and non-discrimination; equality before law; right to privacy, ease of access and mobility; protection from abusive, violent and intolerant discriminatory behaviour; equity in education, employment, health and medical rehabilitation service; right to live independently in community; right to living, to home and family; freedom of expression and information; right of political participation and access to justice; right to own property, right to participate in sports, cultural and recreational activities; protection of persons with disabilities in risk and disaster situation; and to ensure that women, children, senior citizens and transgenders with disabilities are given full protection under law to enjoy their constitutional rights.

The act also states that “The National Council for the Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons constituted under the Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance, 1981 (XL of 1981) shall stand reconstituted as the Council on Rights of Persons with Disabilities.” The council shall have the responsibility to achieve and implement objectives of this Act and to assist the government in developing legal and institutional framework. It is regrettable that a full implementation of this significant law has yet to commence.

The writer is a communications specialist and a freelance writer. He is based in Rawalpindi. He can be reached at: His X handle: @qureshiwaqasA

Awaiting policy protection