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Posted on: Monday, August 29, 2016

Center for Policy Studies (CPS) COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) in collaboration with Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) and sponsorship of Serena Hotel organized a workshop on the Status of Disability Policy in Pakistan on 3 August 2016. The objective was i) to take stock of the overall initiatives taken in the realm of public policy for the mainstreaming and integration of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in the socio-economic and sustainable development of Pakistan; and ii) to suggest recommendations to complement various policy measures in this direction. As an institution CIIT has taken a number of pioneering steps to create awareness on the disability issues as well as to provide accessibility to PWDs and their integration in a number of activities. These measures have included creation of PWD-friendly environment, facilitation of PWD employees and requisite infrastructure for its students.

At the inaugural session Rector CIIT, Dr. S. M. Junaid Zaidi highlighted the importance of the workshop as it will provide an opportunity to various stakeholders to discuss and deliberate on a very important subject. CEO Serena Hotel Mr. Aziz Boolani underscored that the topic of the workshop was very important with a strong human angle and humane approach. He stressed that notwithstanding their physical challenges PWDs are intelligent people who need support and encouragement of the entire community. PWDs are determined people and want to work for their personal development and contribute to the development of their communities and societies. He mentioned about the corporate social responsibility orientation of Serena Hotel and narrated a few instances where PWDs had been accommodated within their system. 

The keynote speaker Ms. Abia Akram CEO of Special Talent Exchange Programme (STEP) emphasized the inclusion aspect and the challenges faced by PWDs as 10 to 15 percent of the total world population comprise of PWDs out of which 80 % live in the global south. Out of these 80 % 50 % are women with disabilities. She underlined accessibility as the biggest challenge which included lack of adequate education and employment opportunities as well as other social barriers. The fact that the flaw in MDGs of overlooking the PWDs has been rectified in the SDGs was a great source of satisfaction. At the national level the government needed twin track policy dealing with PWDs inclusion and their acceptance as equal citizens.

In her overarching remarks the Chief Guest Minister of State for National Health, Services Regulaiton and Coordination, Mrs. Saira Afzal Tarar outlined the policy initiatives taken by the government especially for the PWDs. In this context she informed the audience about Pakistan’s ‘landmark’ initiative of launching together with WHO Priority Inclusive Product List, which would make it obligatory for all governments to provide the listed products/equipment to PWDs. A federal disability product list has already been drafted. This and several other measures of the government reflect the overall vision of a world where no one is deprived of opportunities for self-actualization and advancement.

The first working session was chaired by Justice Ali Nawaz Chauhan, Chairman Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The speakers included public sector representatives from the provinces and Higher Education Commission. While listing the successive policy formulation starting from the early 1980s to 2006, Dr. Azeema Voleger expressed her dismay that implementation even where policy directives had been issued remained much to be desired. The UNESCO Director Ms. Vibeke Jensen congratulated CIIT for a ‘timely’ activity as it comes just before the UN General Assembly meetings where the member countries would review the progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) negotiated among the member countries for three years and adopted in January 2016. This was global agenda with a clear emphasis on inclusive development. SDGs are universal and member countries had approved 17 goals through consensus. The inclusion includes all kinds of people: marginalized, disabled and others excluded for many different reasons. Each member country will be required to submit a report on the status of implementation of SDGs. With regard to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Disabled Persons (UNCRDP) the UNESCO Director interalia stated that the Convention was necessary as it was realized that development of disabled persons was overlooked in the development related agenda of the UN. The paradigm shift involved moving away from the traditional approach of health, medical models and PWDs were looked at as subjects capable of claiming their status as active members of the society. She stressed on changing the mindset. In his remarks Justice Chauhan suggested a reserved seat in parliament for disabled persons and making the UNCRDP a part of the domestic legislation in order to enable PWDs to invoke those rights.

The session broke off for focused deliberations into six working groups under the overall rubric of “Policy Formulation and Implementation Conundrums”. These working groups related to:

  • Education Sector: Inclusion of PWDs
  • Issues Related to Health
  • Structural Contradictions: Employment and Social Accessibility
  • Mainstreaming Women and Children with Disabilities
  • Media’s Role in Shaping Supportive Narrative
  • Breaking the Disability Barriers.

The recommendations of the six working groups were tabulated and presented in the closing session. An opportunity was afforded to the audience to make their interventions, ask questions or provide further input. Mrs. Marriyum Mallick Technical Advisor to WHO delivered her address and provided valuable input and responses to the observations and comments from the participants. She was of the firm view that creation of National Coordination Mechanism or designation of a focal body was an imperative for better coordination among not only the provinces and the centre but also at the international level. She also lamented that there was a dearth of rehabilitation medical persons as well as trained persons in the education and medical professions for effective, efficient and timely handling of PWD needs and cases. Early detection and prevention was necessary which should include parental counseling and family planning. The emphasis was also on inclusion of PWDs in policy and decision making bodies as well as political and economic institutions and processes. Access to micro finance, entrepreneurship and budget allocations dedicated to PWDs was also highlighted along with media playing its due role in promoting PWDs as equal citizens of the country with legitimate claim over resources and opportunities as are due to any other citizen of Pakistan.

The day-long activity was attended by stakeholders from all walks of life: experts, NGOs, PWD foundations and organizations, medical doctors, academicians, political and business figures.

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Centre for Policy Studies
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