In an interview with Mohammad Saeed Khan, LABARD general secretary
To further the debate on financial independence of persons with disabilities (PWDs), The News on Sunday speaks to Mohammad Saeed Khan, general secretary of the Lahore Businessmen Association for Rehabilitation of the Disabled (LABARD) – a non-profit organisation sponsored by the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) – working towards providing equal opportunities for the PWDs.
The News on Sunday (TNS): In Pakistan, how difficult is it to convince families or individuals with disabilities to engage with the concept of independence?
Mohammad Saeed Khan (MSK): The major problem regarding disability in developing countries like Pakistan is to deal with PWDs with low self-esteem owing to a specific negative social approach towards them. People in Pakistan, in general, are not sensitised to the issue. The prevalent approach is charity based, in which people generally deal with the PWDs with pity instead of an inclusive approach where people are fully sensitised about the issue and treat them equally.
It is a great irony that disabled persons are regarded as a stigma in our society. Hence, they confine themselves within their homes and ultimately lose the confidence to face the world. Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs) have to make a lot of effort to rehabilitate the PWDs. Females with disabilities have to face a lot more problems than male PWDs because of social barriers and generally fewer opportunities for females in our country. There are several DPOs working for the PWDs but it is not even close to the actual effort required.
TNS: Vocational training offered by LABARD appears quite diverse. How does the organisation decide which areas to offer training in and how has the response been so far?
MSK: The LABARD provides vocational training to PWDs in various trades based on market requirements. Marketable trades are selected by discussing the matter with market leaders and employers. We continuously revise our curriculum as per the requirements of the market to make the PWDs capable of fulfilling workplace obligations.
Currently we offer training in 8 trades at our vocational training facility. These include, computer applications, domestic stitching, industrial stitching, mobile phone repair, auto CAD and 3D MAX, graphic design and beautician courses.
Choice of skill development for PWDs is dependent on the physical condition, qualification and aptitude of the PWDs. Firstly, the LABARD outreach team identifies PWDs and then sends them to training centres. Later, psychologists hold sessions with the PWDs along with their families to offer counselling following which their training area is determined.
TNS: How much success have these programmes witnessed in terms of meaningful financial independence for PWDs and is it sustainable in the long run?
MSK: More than 94,000 disabled and under-privileged members of the society have benefitted from LABARD’s broad range of free facilities. We have provided vocational training to more than 4,700 PWDs and over 6,800 PWDs have been placed in jobs in various industries and businesses. The LABARD has also provided interest-free loans to more than 500 PWDs to start small businesses. More than 6,600 PWDs have been provided with aiding instruments and wheelchairs to improve their mobility and functionality.
TNS: What sort of support do you look for from the private sector in terms of employment of PWDs who are trained at your institution?
MSK: We believe that employment provides livelihood leading to rehabilitation – this is the main reason why we focus on securing jobs for the PWDs. We find jobs for PWDs in the private sector through our dedicated employment cell. The LABARD’s employment cell serves as a bridge between PWDs and employers. Before the completion of training, our employment officers try to find employment opportunities for our graduates.
It is difficult to convince an employer to hire a PWD because of several reasons – including accessability issue at workplace and low productivity. However, due to legislation, employers are bound to set aside a 3 percent quota for PWDs. We think private sector should come forward so that the disabled can become active members of society and contribute their share in the economy rather than become a burden.
TNS: How can the government help in securing financial stability and independence of persons with disabilities?
MSK: Currently, the major issue for PWDs is accessibility. All educational institutions, transportation systems, offices and even hospitals are inaccessible for PWDs. Only a very few newly constructed buildings are accessible. A building design should not be approved without accommodating accessibility issues, and monitoring and implementation of laws should be strict. PWDs have to visit government hospitals to get their Disability Certificate issued before getting a special national identity card (CNIC). Due to a cumbersome procedure, PWDs don’t bother to get themselves recognised which becomes a hurdle in getting benefits offerd by the government.
TNS: What is the biggest challenge faced by LABARD in training and securing employment forPWDs?
MSK: The LABARD is dealing with a segment of society which is not only physically challenged but also mostly belongs to underprivileged areas. Most of them are either illiterate or have low educational levels. Due to poverty, lack of awareness and education parents hesitate to send their children to schools and vocational training centres. LABARD’s biggest challenge is to identify the PWDs and motivate them to join our rehabilitation programme. The LABARD outreach team puts immense effort in bringing PWDs to our training centres. For this we hold 16 monthly outreach camps at several underprivileged locations in Lahore. We collaborate with local communities and representatives of local governments to identify and register PWDs for vocational training and other free-of-cost services.
During training it is also necessary to keep the PWD motivated. For this, we regularly conduct individual counselling sessions through our team of psychologists, who then suggest corrective actions. We provide medications and assistive devices to improve the health and mobility of PWDs as per the recommendation of trained doctors.