Seminar On “Break barriers, open doors: for an inclusive society for all” International Day of People with Disability
3rd December International day of persons with disabilities. December! A month which has got many surprises in it. A month filled with love stories and fairy tales which brings a lot of excitement and gifts for people all around the world, brings 3rd December as a gift for persons with disabilities. A day of international solidarity, a day of brotherhood, harmony and unity among PWDs. 3rd December is welcomed by persons with disabilities all over the world with the celebrations of International day for Persons with disabilities. World is going too fast, all over the world where Persons with disabilities enjoy full liberty, share happiness, experience freedom and get full exposure of the society celebrate this day with a lot of joy and happiness along with their families, friends and countrymen. Unfortunately we, the South Asian Countries including Pakistan are still demanding our basic rights on this day. We are still in a phase where our countrymen need to be sensitized; we are still facing those same barriers and obstacles which we were facing 20 years ago. Our Governments still need to be addressed about the daily issues faced by PWDs. Our society’s attitude is still a hindrance in development and growth of this part of the community.
Keeping this in view, SAAYA Association of PWDs keeps on organizing seminars, social gatherings, walks, and awareness campaigns on daily basis to aware and sensitizes the society and government officials. To create ways for the betterment and development of Pakistan and PWDs, SAAYA Association Organized a seminar on 3rd December, International day of persons with disabilities in COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad under the umbrella of CBID Network with the topic of Inclusion in every part of society including education for PWDs. The international Slogan given by UN, “Break barriers, open doors: for an inclusive society for all” was core of the event.
The seminar comprised speakers from different parts of the society including teachers from COMSATS, some students with disabilities of the same institute sharing their life experiences, our most honorable Mr. Imran Nazir Country Head (LCDDP-Pakistan), Ms. Saima Aslam (Director Project Management, SAAYA Association) and Mr. Asim Zafar (Secretariat Coordinator CBID Network). The main focus of all the speakers remained on equal participation and opportunity utilization by the PWDs in development of the country by enabling them access to all the basic rights that a common man takes for granted.
The discussion revolved around the barriers faced by PWDs and solutions to overcomethose barriers. Four types of barriers that PWDs encounter with in their daily routine are,
Actions speak louder than words, we practically experienced this quotation when a group of students in COMSATS picked our wheelchairs up and they took us to the 4th floor, “Physical Barrier”. Major portion of the university was not disabled friendly, “Environmental Barrier”. The sympathetic attitude of people when they were actually helping us, although they were clear and good in their intentions, “Attitudinal Barrier”. This was the fourth seminar regarding disability in a span of three years but still only one building out of five was made accessible through elevators. This shows the reluctance to accept PWDs as a society member by the authorities of the university, “Social Barrier”.
Speakers talked about the difference between impairment and Barriers, what happens when both ofthem combine? Impairment is a medical condition in which one or more parts of the body of a person stop working. Impairment can be eliminated with the use of assistive devices like wheelchairs, white canesor hearing aids depending on the type of impairment. Barriers as discussed above are multiple in our society. No matter, which type of barriers but when they combine with impairments, developsdisability? The point to be noted here is that disability is not a defect in a person but it’s a fault and defect in society, in environment, in attitudes and in physical infrastructures. A person walking on his legs cannot climb up to the 2nd floor if there are no steps or elevators present. So basically, he is disabled by the physical infrastructure in spite of having his two walking and talking legs. But if on the same place, we install steps as well as ramps or elevator, then even a person moving on a wheelchair is mobilized, so nobody remains disabled. The need is to understand the meaning of disability and its causes, there are hundred ways to eliminate those disabilities. Main focus of the speakers remained on sensitizing the students by giving them similar examples to create awareness and a sense of mobility in their minds..
There were two students facing disability who spoke to the audience and shared their important experiences. One of them Mr. Chidi from Nigeria studying on a scholarship program in COMSATS Islamabad. His impairment was low vision when combined with barriers, formed disability. He spoke to the audience telling them the difference between life in Nigeria and life in Pakistan. Although not much difference as both are ranked in ranks of developing countries but he had one advantage of language in Nigeria. Making himself here, he faced many barriers throughout his life including infrastructural, environmental and attitudinal at some places. But he was very thankful to the people of Pakistan to loosen his burden a bit in shape of social barriers. Mr. Chidi said, “Pakistani people are very helpful and they understand my disability very well, my teachers are helpful and they don’t consider me some other creature but very much like other students”. These were the remarks of an international student studying in Pakistan. But collectively, we seldom see any mobility for PWDs in our society when we talk about the community as a whole.
There were exchange of thoughts of some speakers comparing Pakistan with other countries specifically ‘America’ as one of our speakers named ‘Dr. Azeema’ visited America sometime back. She was of the opinion that the kind of mobility and accessibility you have in America is just a dream for people living in Pakistan at the moment. And no doubt, she was hundred percent right. Not only America but some Asian countries as well like Japan, Thailand and China. We look forward to those countries for our development.
Ms. Saima Aslam (Director Project Management SAYYA Association starts her speech from the theme of celebrating 3rd December “The International Disabled Day”. By elaborating the importance and significance the day she said thatover one billion people, or approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population, live with some form of disability!
Around the world, persons with disabilities face physical, social, economic and attitudinal barriers that exclude them from participating fully and effectively as equal members of society. They are disproportionately represented among the world’s poorest, and lack equal access to basic resources, such as education, employment, healthcare and social and legal support systems, as well as have a higher rate of mortality. In spite of this situation, disability has remained largely invisible in the mainstream development agenda and its processes. She highly enlarge the difficulties and problems regarding the women with disabilities that they have to face by the society and highlight the issues related to women with disabilities. She said thatit’s time to effectively implementationand to break barriers and open doors: to realize an inclusive society and development for all!
Mr. Asim Zafar Secretariat Coordinator CBID Network spoke to the youth about their role in disability movement. How can they contribute and play their part in this cause? Firstly he cleared the concept of students about disability by giving them some examples from his experience. Then he asked them to get sometime out of their daily schedules and spent that time in productive and social activities including disability movement. You can serve as volunteers, as part time attendants, as interns and you can also join this field as your profession after your studies but only with the condition that you completely understand the true concept of disability.
Concluding the issues discussed in the seminar, Organizers from COMSATS and participants from SAAYA Association in collaboration with our honorable guest speakers Dr.Aliya Moeen Zafar head of the department were of the opinion that now is the time to implement. Lawmaking is another thing which some of the officials in this field are doing great. But now is the time to implement those laws and policies. In fact, we shouldn’t only rely on the national or governmental lawmaking but there should be individual policies of institutions which enable them to be called disabled friendly and accessible institutes. Accessibility in all its forms, a barrier free society depicting in the premises of the university and even beyond the premises of the university where ever students of COMSATS go in future. We were in agreement with the organizers from COMSATS that soon we will get all the authorities of the institute on one table and we will have an open discussion with them about making the university accessible and barrier free. Very soon we will start working on it and before next 3rd December, we will have an accessible COMSATS INSH A ALLAH.