ALTHOUGH Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2011, there is yet no parliamentary act to remove barriers to their accessing and participating in the workforce other than the Disabled Persons (Employment & Rehabilitation) Ordinance, 1981. The ordinance stipulated a 1pc (later raised to 2pc) quota of public-sector jobs reserved for persons with disabilities (PWDs). The quota also applies to any private establishment, whether industrial or commercial, that employs 100 or more workers. Failure to honour the quota would result in a fine, which would go towards the Disabled Persons Rehabilitation Fund, established by the ordinance. Although the 1981 ordinance has been helpful to some extent, weak implementation and a failure to redress discrimination against PWDs renders it largely ineffective. Besides this, the rules of the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) Ordinance, 1977 were amended in 2005, allowing PWDs to compete in CSS examinations for the first time. Rule 9 of the rules for the 2014 CSS exams, framed by FPSC, makes allowances for reasonable accommodations. Blind persons, for example, can sit for the exams using a computer, Braille and/or with the assistance of an amanuensis. However, Rule 9 is discriminatory in nature as it allows PWDs to take part in CSS exams but successful candidates can only join four occupational groups: the audit and accounts service, and the commerce and trade, information and postal groups. Discrimination on the basis of disability must end. Moreover, while PWDs can only join the foreign service if they are selected on merit (which constitutes only 7.5pc of all selected candidates), this restriction does not apply to other candidates. Last year, Faisal Majeed and Muhammad Yousef, two blind persons who achieved 12th and 22nd positions respectively, were placed in the information group along with those who did not do as well on the merit list — just because they happen to be blind. Exclusive restrictions on blind candidates resulted in others (who performed worse) joining the foreign service instead, on a quota for candidates from Punjab. This discrimination is mind-boggling considering that the candidates were assessed on the same exams and interviews as the rest, but nonetheless cannot join groups they otherwise qualify and fulfil all the requirements for. The Establishment Division decided on its own that PWDs are fit to serve only in certain groups, without any consultation with PWDs. There seems to be no basis for why PWDs can work in some groups or services, but not, for example, in the administrative, police, customs or income tax services. Take the police service. Other than field postings, there are many positions that require officers to develop policies and conduct background research. The same is the case for other services. With the advent of assistive technologies, people with vision impairment can read and write on their own, access the internet, and convert a hard copy into a readable document on the computer. In such a scenario, not only was there no justification for barring successful blind candidates from joining certain groups, it was a sheer violation of their constitutional right of seeking gainful employment on an equal basis with others. Once the administrative and police services excluded successful, qualified candidates on the basis of gender. Now, they are being restrictive on the basis of disability. Rule 9 of the FPSC ordinance is in conflict with Article 27 of the CRPD, which pertains to the promotion and realisation of PWDs’ right to work. Article 27 declares that state parties should take effective steps to ensure that PWDs are not discriminated against during “recruitment, hiring and employment, continuance of employment, career advancement and safe and healthy working conditions”. It not only requires state parties to employ PWDs in the public sector, but also to promote opportunities in the private sector through affirmative action and employment incentives. Article 27 also requires state parties to ensure that reasonable workplace accommodations are provided to PWDs. The Establishment Division and FPSC need to revise Rule 9 in consultation with PWDs, disability groups and advocates to ensure that successful candidates can join the civil service on an equal basis with others. Furthermore, instead of piecemeal legislation, there is need for comprehensive federal legislation to protect all rights (including employment rights) of PWDs, which includes an effective oversight body to ensure its implementation. Given the 18th Amendment, the provinces must then use this as a template for passing their own disability rights legislation. Additionally, private-sector employment for PWDs must be tapped into. The Disabled Persons Rehabilitation Fund, which was neglected owing to weak implementation mechanisms, must also be addressed through this new legislation. The writer is an author and rights activist.