Experts stress joint efforts to ensure enabling future for Persons with Disabilities

Lahore (Muhammad Yasir) Acknowledging the fact that persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Pakistan have potentials, speakers at a two-day conference have called for a multi-pronged approach at all levels to ensure an enabling future where PWDs can experience equal opportunities and contribute towards nation building with full capacities.

The conference was held at the LUMS campus, Lahore, jointly by the Office of Accessibility and Inclusion at LUMS and Sightsavers Pakistan.

This conference served as an important milestone in promoting safe, secure, accessible, and inclusive spaces for PWDs at the higher education level in Pakistan. A number of sessions were also held focusing on disability rights and movements. The event raised awareness on the importance of creating a future where persons with disabilities experience equal opportunities and develop policy proposals to chart this path in the specific area of higher educational institutions.

The opening day of the conference focused on international context of disability and inclusion with panellists from different countries while the concluding day focused on the local context with panellists sharing experiences from country level.

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, Yousaf Saleem (first blind judge in Pakistan), Country Director Sightsavers Pakistan Munazza Gillani, Global Education Leads from Sightsavers, coordinators of disability networks, representatives of government and NGOs and persons with disabilities were amongst the the panellists.

In her welcome address, Munazza Gillani said this strategic event was aimed at identifying gaps and coming up with solutions to cope with the challenges being faced by the persons with disabilities in the society. She added learnings and the key recommendations and related solutions from these two days event will create a strong impetus towards empowerment of persons with disabilities. She further shared those learnings of the conference will be included in next Voluntary National Report (VNR) to be presented at High Level Political Forum (HLPF) of United Nations.

Provost LUMS Tariq Jadoon in his welcome note said that it is our collective responsibility to ensure an equitable society which extends equality of opportunity to all its members. He further said that the aim of the conference was not only to bring all the stakeholders together, but more importantly, to ensure that the voice of persons with disabilities at the decision making table is highlighted.

During the two-day conference, various interactive sessions were also held where the experts, some of them participated virtually, highlighted the provincial and federal government legislation with regard to the protection of the rights of the persons with disabilities, gender perspective especially from a feminist approach and came up with key recommendations.

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah who had been a great supporter to the disability rights, emphasized on the use of sensitized language regarding disability. Director General Social Welfare Department, Punjab, Mudassir Riaz shared that Punjab Disability Bill has been submitted and soon will be tabled in provincial assembly for approval. He further told that an online portal for persons with disabilities has been developed where they can get registered for disability certificate as per their convenience.

The sessions examined the culture and consequences of inclusive community-based living for persons with physical, intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. Panellists shared lived experiences and conducted a deeper analysis of case studies focusing on human rights, dignity, quality of life and health, equal rights and access to education, autonomy and social inclusion of Persons with Disabilities.

The students with disabilities at conference highlighted different barriers to education including discrimination in enrolment, schools that are not accessible, and failure by schools to provide an individualized approach or reasonable accommodations. The session also evaluated interventions and initiatives that help advance disability rights in line with the SDGs Framework.