Benefits available to disabled people in Pakistan are terribly hard for them to access. A few stories from the ground
A disability certificate issued by the Social Welfare Department is the basic document disabled people need to receive government benefits, including three percent employment quota in government departments, but it is an extremely difficult document to obtain.
The Disabled Persons Employment and Rehabilitation Act 2015 gives multiple facilities and rights to disabled people including three percent employment quota in every federal, provincial and district department, while Sindh Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act 2018 provides them a five percent job quota.
Safeer Ahmed, 35, resident of Pindora, Rawalpindi says he is tired of visiting hospitals, "Those who have a reference in the hospital get their work done at the earliest but those who do not have any reference have to wait the whole day," he says.
Explaining the process, he says it starts from getting a form from the website or from the tuck shop at the hospital, after which the hospital’s social officer marks the application and sends it to the medical officer for the applicant’s medical test. After the test, the applicant has to verify his documents from a gazetted officer, and has to appear before the board meeting held only twice a month at the District Headquarter Hospital.
Muhammad Asim, 36, resident of Amar Pura, Rawalpindi who had come to get the certificate for his disabled daughter, said doctors had conducted her medical two weeks ago but he hadn’t received the certificate yet. "I’m waiting in the queue here since 9 am to present the documents before the assessment board for the final recommendation for her disability certificate," he said.
The five members’ assessment board has representation from Technical Education & Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA), Labour Department, Medical Superintendent of DHQ, Social Welfare Department and a medical officer who recommends the application for the issuance of disability certificates.
A Member of assessment board wishing anonymity informed this scribe that there are four major types of disabilities i.e. blindness, deafness, mental retardation and physical handicap. The duty of the assessment board is to decide whether the applicant falls under any of these categories. Sometimes people try to get a disability certificate to avail benefits even when they are physically fit, he added.
Disability is further divided into two different categories -- ‘Fit to work’ and ‘Not fit to work’. The ‘Fit to work’ disabled person is eligible to work on a disabled person quota in any government or private organisation while the ‘Not fit to work’ disabled person is one who cannot perform any duty.
Safeer Ali, 60, who had come with his nephew said that majority of the disabled people are illiterate, and the hospital has no effective system to guide them about the whole process. "It is difficult for a disabled person to fulfil requirements without the help of a relative, but relatives are usually not ready to spend a few days at the hospital only for a certificate," he said.
Even after the recommendation of the assessment board, the applicant has to visit the Social Welfare Department after one month to collect his/her certificate.
Iram Nawaz, 28, said, "People are not heard on their turn. Men influence the staff to get their turn earlier. The hospital management should start a token system to fairly mange the turn of applicants, adding that there are only a few chairs outside the meeting room because of which most people have to sit on the ground to wait for their turn. Concerned authorities should make proper seating arrangement for disabled people."
A disabled person with a NADRA registration card for disability can avail a 50 percent discount on airline and railway tickets. Moreover, deserving disabled people can get Rs10,000 stipends every year from The Social Welfare Department and the Bait ul Mal.
Muhammad Saleem, Secretary Assessment Board said that the board meeting is held three times a month and an average of 100 certificates are issued monthly. However, when the government announces any package for disabled people the rush of applicants increases suddenly.
He said that after the 18th amendment social welfare is a provincial subject, making every province work independently for the rehabilitation of its disabled people. By law, not only government departments but even private organisations with more than 100 employees are bound to hire three percent disabled people, but private departments do not show the true number of their employees to escape from different laws.
Saima Aslam, Programme Manager for Women with Disability at Saaya, Association of Persons with disabilities said that most disabled people are unaware of the benefits and importance of a disability certificate. However, lack of facilities in hospitals for disabled people is also a barrier in getting the certificate.
To a question, Muhammad Saleem said that a District Monitoring Committee, comprising members of Punjab Employment Board, Social Security Department and Social Welfare Department, has been established to ensure the implementation of three percent quota for disabled people in private and government departments. The committee regularly writes letters to private organisations to hire disabled people as per law, but unfortunately it does not have any more implementation power than this.
Section 11 of the said act clearly states that if a department does not employ a disabled person as required by section 10, it shall deposit into the government funds each month the sum of money it would have paid as salary to a disabled person had he been employed.
Saeeda Begum, a social worker who helps disabled people in getting disability certificates, said that owing to lengthy and complicated procedures most disabled people and their families avoid getting this certificate.
The authorities should make a facilitation centre for disabled people where they are provided all facilities under one roof, or at least the board meeting should be held every week in every allied hospital of the city so that the rush can be reduced and the disabled can easily obtain certificates, she demands.
Khalid Shirwani, Associate Community outreach at NowPDP -- a Karachi based welfare organisation, says that just like Rawalpindi and Islamabad disabled people are also facing the same problems in Karachi. They have to visit the Provincial Council for Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons (PCRDP) four to five times and the designated hospital to fulfil the requirement, he says.
Sindh Government has announced the establishment of an independent body namely "Empowerment of Persons with Disability" for the implementation of disabled persons’ rights. He hopes that problems will be reduced considerably after that.
Aslam Methla, Divisional Director at Social Welfare Department Rawalpindi says that to overcome the problems of disabled people the board meeting is also held in Benazir Bhutto Hospital Rawalpindi on the last day of every month. To a question, he said, "If someone is facing any problem in this process, he should visit the nearest Social Welfare Office where the available staff will help him."
Disabled people demand the authorisation of all government hospitals to conduct medical tests and issue certificates, or for the government to designate special medical and social welfare officers for this job so they can be available every day to provide disability certificates easily.