Disabled Access

Recently a programme on a local cable channel talked about the issue of disabled access to government and commercial buildings open to the public. One of its guests, the founder of the Lutfi Foundation, stated that 10% of Pakistan’s population is disabled. I found that shocking and, upon further research, to be understated. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates 10% of the world’s population to be disabled, but this percentage is higher in developing countries, which would rank Pakistan at the higher end of the spectrum.

This is indeed a shocking revelation for me since I see such few disabled people in public places. So I asked myself why this was so? And the answer is simple: there is hardly any place which a disabled person would be able to access. From restaurants to shopping malls (our favourite outings), none have any complete disabled persons facility. Some may have disabled parking (I hope), some have ramps, others elevators, but I doubt any have disabled toilets and virtually none have all of these. These facilities are not only useful for people with disabilities, but also the elderly who may be faced with physical difficulties.

Interestingly, on a recent trip I found out that Air Blue, the popular new airline, has no ambulift / wheelchair lifting equipment for disabled at Islamabad Airport where there is no jetway. I am sure this is also true at other smaller airports. In London, the famous Routemaster red buses with a back entrance and a conductor were rendered completely obsolete last year due to one reason. That is because Disability Discrimination Act 2005 was made to extend to transport facilities in accordance with certain EU Regulations that stated that all buses must have disabled access ramps.

It is too much to hope that such buses would be provided anytime soon in a country where, according to a conservative estimate, 32% are living below the poverty line. But it is not too much to expect new shopping malls and expensive restaurants providing such facilities or at least some sort of disabled access. One of the first things an economist is taught is that the ageing and disabled section of a population is a burden on the working section of the population. So economically speaking, there isn’t much weight in the argument for provision of such facilities. But morally speaking the weight of the argument is huge.

Unfortunately, most people in our country who have disabled children are too embarrassed to take them out. Embarrassed of what? Unless we demand owners and builders of such buildings to provide for those amongst us who are disabled, they will not do so. We must remember that it is important to treat such members of our society as being special and not as being different. Once we understand the fine line between the two, we will learn to appreciate the uniqueness of this group of people, leading to our own personal and social development.

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