Access denied!

Most of the best statistical analysis about our country is present with our telecom operators who invest in and maintain extensive data on our population as it is to their intrinsic benefit. In a very recent survey according to“Teletimes International” Pakistan is a country of 169 million people with 2.49% of its populace falling under the “disabled” category. This includes both visually and physically challenged people( I find handicapped and disabled too crude).  Quite a  large number of us who are treated by the rest as completely invisible and ignored.

Harsh words I know, but the life of person who is challenged in any way is the very epitome of misery in this land. Right from the very start if a person is noted to be a little slow or has difficulty in coping with the ways of normal childhood they are shunned mostly by their family at first and then by those around them. They grow up knowing there is something wrong with them and when they enter an age where they should become part of society they learn that Pakistani society has no space for them. Even if the parents of such a child chose to act in defiance and care for their children society looks upon them as they have suddenly sprouted some sort of disease and it is somehow their fault that their child is challenged.

We often point fingers at the system but we do not want to look in the mirror and realize we are the system. Does anyone know how many private restaurants in the city of Karachi have accessibility options for physically or visually challenged individuals? How many of them have menus in braille? If someone in a wheel chair wants to go out and eat, people accompanying him/her would have to first literally carry them in and then would be subject to our innate ability to stare down anything slightly out of the ordinary. Confortable thought no?

Lets pick up another area of normal life for the rest of us”income” There exists a quota for physically or visually challenged people in Pakistan in both corporate and government jobs but its more or less on paper only. As far as I know people who do not measure up to our standards of normal are usually shunned by most avenues of employment. So what are they supposed to do? Just because a person has lost or does not have one sense does not mean he or she is less intelligent then you and I, or cannot make the next breakthrough or achieve a name for themselves? We however deem it proper that they should sit at home and think some more about what they cannot do.

Today the world has exploded with connections via the internet and social media bringing an almost unmanageable input of info to those of us who can access it . Yet this segment of our society cannot even use the internet because they cannot afford braille keyboards or need special services like text to speech which are not understood by most of their family members. They are in the dark, literally and our telecom companies also choose to mostly ignore them, as per their own data 80% of the challenged people of Pakistan can only access the voice call facilities of their cell phones, 10% of the hearing challenged can only use our sms facilities, there is a total unavailability of text to speech across the board, 30% of all physically challenged persons cannot even use a cell phone due to device design. How is a challenged person supposed to even know what kind of services a carrier or dsl service is offering when they cannot visually or audibly access the brochures these companies make? Are any of the ad campaigns designed to provide access to those among us who cannot see or hear? Does anyone of our carriers offer the challenged people of Pakistan an alternative other than total dependence on those around them to guide them in say getting a sim card?

We do give them one thing though, you see we Pakistanis are very compassionate folk so we show it by showering pity on these challenged individuals, the problem is they do not need our pity! Most of them are content with the way god made them. It is we in our blatant ignorance who are acting like they are lesser mortals than us, hence making them conscious and insecure. Do we know Einstein could not read until he was 8, Edison till he was 12, John Milton went blind at 43, Beethoven became deaf at 28. Imagine how many inventors, musicians & poets do we have enchained in self doubt and mental torture? Imagine what we could achieve if we gave them accessibility to so many things we take for granted…we the “normal” people of Pakistan


A version of this piece was published in The Dawn Blog on 7/2/2011

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