16 06 2008

Changing attitudes towards disabilities

by Shahina Maqbool



The Internatuonal News


The devastating earthquake of 2005 proved to be a turning point in the lives of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) in Pakistan, a country where an estimated 10 per cent of the population, according to the World Health Organisation, is beset with one or the other kind of disability.

The earthquake tragedy sufficiently highlighted the need to erect infrastructures, conduct trainings and institutionalise comprehensive community-based rehabilitation services to enable PWDs to build on their strengths rather than weaknesses and abilities rather than disabilities.

“In our society, PWDs are faced with discrimination, social exclusion and stigma the moment they are perceived to be affected by impairment. If left unaddressed, these impairments tend to accumulate and translate over time into a series of cumulative exclusions that result in social disabilities and poverty,” Dr. Jehanzeb Aurakzai, project director of the Medical Rehabilitation of Persons With Disabilities in the Earthquake Affected Areas (MRDEA), said while talking to ‘The News’ here on Friday.

Dr. Aurakazai said most disabilities in the developing countries can either be prevented through medical treatment or alleviated through rehabilitation and economic and social policies that address the underlying causes. A majority of these disabilities comes from communicable diseases, maternal and perinatal diseases, mental health disorders and injuries. “Such impairments can drastically be reduced through treatment and prevention programmes entailing medical interventions at various stages of life, especially during the early years of infancy and childhood,” Dr. Aurakzai said, listing public health programmes and awareness-raising campaigns on top of the agenda for prevention of diseases that are major causes of disabilities.

Recognising the need to educate and sensitise stakeholders comprising doctors, lady heath workers, health technicians, school teachers and representatives of local government, the World Health Organisation, in collaboration with MRDEA, is organising the first-ever series of awareness-raising workshops on disabilities in the earthquakes-affected districts.

“Only yesterday (Friday), the fourth in a series of six awareness-raising activities for sensitisation of the community on disability issues was organised at Battagram. Besides awareness-raising, the two-day workshop focused on development of referrals and linkages with ERRA’s existing disability project,” Dr. Aurakzai informed. As many as 200 participants attended the workshop, which was preceded by three similar workshops in Muzaffarabad, Mansehra and Abbottabad.

The workshop was divided into three sessions — inaugural, educational and technical. Dr. Jehanzeb Aurakzai and WHO Adviser on Disabilities Dr. Maryam Mallick presented a detailed review of disabilities and community-based rehabilitation in Pakistan, the problems being faced by PWDs and the kind of rehabilitative services needed for making them productive member of society.

The educational session focused on identifying problems and issues related to disabilities. The PWDs shared the problems faced by them during the course of their daily routines. During the technical session, the participants were divided into various groups, each of which was tasked to identify problems related to social inclusion of PWDs, misconceptions in society about disabilities, issues resulting from difficult terrain, and were asked to give ideas and solutions.

The overall response of the workshop was overwhelming as the participants expressed that they never had a clue that so much could be done for PWDs and that depending upon the nature of the disability, they can be rehabilitated. In the concluding session, certificates were distributed by Shams Rehman, zila nazim of Battagram, who was the chief guest on the occasion. Saeed Ahmed Khan, EDO Schools and Literacy, was also present.

Highlighting some of the key challenges facing PWDs, Dr. Maryam Mallick said, 98% of the children with disabilities in the world do not have access to school education facilities. In general, they receive the lowest priority in accessing scarce resources and are unlikely to have access to information as they are faced with a scarcity of translation devices (e.g. Braille), sign-language translators, information on audiotape, or means of accessing information on the internet.

PWDs are generally excluded from employment because employers rarely consider job applications from them.




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