04 December, 2010

Disabled demand access to equal opportunities

Sana Jamal

ISLAMABAD: Prejudice, lack of opportunities and official apathy - the disabled people in the country have to deal with more than just their physical disabilities in their struggle to lead respectable lives. On International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 Dec.) people with disability demanded for an inclusive society with equal opportunity and accessibility for all – able or disabled.

Taking an initiative to include people with disability with the society, Islamabad Serena Hotel (ISH) introduced Braille Menus for its visually impaired guests on International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Friday at the hotel premises. “Serena Hotel is the first hotel in Pakistan to launch Braille menu service to serve its visually impaired” said Peter Hill, General Manager, ISH on the launch of Braille menu at the hotel. Sharing the importance of the day with the theme “Keeping the promise: Mainstreaming disability in the Millennium Development Goals towards 2015 and beyond" Mr. Hill said “People with disability are denied basic rights but they are highly productive if given a chance to prove themselves. Employers must take positive steps on this international day and give equal opportunities to them.”

Aamir Qayyum, designer of Braille menu is a person with low vision disability. “Being a disable person, Braille is my mother tongue. I feel privileged to play my part in providing accessibility to disable people through this Braille menu” Aamir said smilingly.

According to World Bank statistics almost 10% population of Pakistan is disabled but “due to the narrow mindset of the people who feel ashamed in admitting that they have a disable person at home, we do not have an exact number of disable people in Pakistan” Atif said demanding an attitudinal change in mindset of community.

“I live a normal life but the only problem I have to face is of inaccessibility” said Farzana Kauser, 28 years old who is living with disability but is working as a filed assistant officer at National Education Foundation. Special people do not want pity or charity, they want full accessibility, she added.

Bulk of the problem which is faced by a visually impaired person is not in disability but in the attitudinal and physical barriers erected by society. Therefore, in the first instance, people with disabilities need to be identified as individuals and human beings by removing any social model or attitude barriers.

“With the right of access to public buildings, facilities and technology being denied to a wide range of disabled people, several other important human rights just become theoretical with no real meaning and value” said Atif Sheikh, President of Special Talent Exchange Program (STEP).
“We want proper legislation for disable people not just policies and conventions” said Atif Sheikh. Appreciating the efforts of government of introducing Special Computerized Identity Cards for the Persons, Atif said government is doing efforts for disable children but no practical steps are being taken for adults with disability as they are the working force – backbone of the country.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Hill said Serena Environmental and Educational Development (SEED) aims to promote a better understanding of disability issues with a focus on the rights of the persons with disabilities. It also emphasizes the need for integration of persons with disabilities in all aspects of the political, social, economic and cultural lives of their communities, he added.