As per projected estimates, there are approximately 5.035 million persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Pakistan. Worrisome is the fact that only 14% of PWDs work, while the rest are all reliant upon family members for financial support. Even more worrying is that 1.4 million (28.09% of total PWDs) are children of school going age that do not have access to education. The question for us as a society is: are we doing enough to help facilitate the inclusion of these PWDs in the spectrum of normal life? The statistics presented, speak otherwise. PWDs are missing from all major streams of life. Their participation in socio-economic and political activities is limited by their characterization as weak and less capable individuals. While in developed societies, you observe the governments continuously striving to create equitably enabling environments for PWDs, to help them enjoy a quality life, with dignity, the situation in Pakistan remains discouraging.
Political participation of PWDs in Pakistan is marred by the social stigma attached to the disability. Not adequately facilitated to participate in life up to one’s full potential, the lives of most of the PWDs are spent in seeking help and assistance from people around them. Quite a few of us are unaware of the difficulties a PWD might face during the performance of tasks that we might consider menial and routine. The societal level of awareness, exposure and empathy towards the needs of this significant minority is not commendable.
Lack of government’s interest towards PWDs is reflected in the government’s failure to keep up with job quotas of two percent assigned to PWDs and adequate pay scales to ensure their dignified living. These problems are firmly enrooted in the lack of voice, empowerment and subsequent representation of PWDs in the political sphere.
In a society where even getting to the polling station is a remarkable feat for the PWDs, what follows at the polling station is much more troubling. Imagine yourself as a person on a wheelchair who wants to cast a vote. Convincing someone to accompany you to the polling station on a public transport is quite a task. Even those who are going to vote, might just turn down your request, thinking about how much effort it would take to get you at the polling station. The struggle is not over once you are at the polling station; a huge probability is that there are no ramps to greet you- you need to be carried inside again. Once inside, you are likely to face difficulty in mobility, as the polling booths are mostly overcrowded and congested, with people not much sensitized on the problems that PWDs face. If you lack eyesight or if your hearing is impaired, you won’t find specialized staff at the polling stations to assist you. Would there be brails for the sight-impaired to cast vote? Not really. How would the privacy of the ballot of the sight-impaired be preserved, if there is no braille? Or is privacy of no importance?
The plain truth is that Pakistan has a long way to go in terms of facilitating PWDs to ensure their effective electoral participation. Right to vote is the building block of democracy. It is an instrument through which the aspirations of people are reflected and actualized. If millions of PWDs are excluded from the electoral process, we cannot call the elections inclusive and fair. Inability to vote due to lack of facilitative mechanism leaves a strong question mark on the performance of ECP in ensuring that all Pakistanis are treated equally. Failure to arrange polling stations that are sensitive to the requirements of the PWDs is, in plain and simple words, a denial of the right to vote. Waqar, K., Dr. (2014, May). Disability:Situation in Pakistan. Retrieved February 27, 2017, from http://itacec.org/document/gaw/gaw2014/2.%20Disability%20Pages%202.pdf