The Struggle Of The Disabled To Enjoy Fundamental Rights
During the first three months of 2017, the Chief Justice of Lahore High Court issued three important orders. These orders have provided protection to the rights of the disabled against abuse by state institutions. In an order on Writ Petition Number 7572/2016 the court struck down Rule 9(ii) of CSS Rules and directed the government to allocate two seats to the petitioners (visually impaired – bilateral blindness) in the Foreign Service of Pakistan, as applied for and qualified by the petitioners, even if the government had to create two new such posts for that purpose. The court also directed the government to formulate rules to offer all or any occupational service to persons with disabilities in public services and provide assistance in technology, where possible, to protect and safeguard their fundamental rights rather than ousting them from the service. In another Writ Petition No. 37499/2016 the court directed that field staff must be arranged for the necessary recording of transgenders during the census and likewise Writ Petition Number 7122/2017 directed recording of the people with disabilities. Such directions by the court make one think about the role played by society in enabling the disabled of our society. Were the people managing Census 2017 not able to determine such a need or did they simply not value it?
Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah observed that “adequate provisions” and“reasonable accommodation” should be provided by the state so that people with disabilities can benefit from such provisions and be an integral part of the society.
Can you recall your campus life and remember there being an adequate provision of ramps at the entrance of a building or the inside of the building to assist a wheelchair user? I found my own campus, Civil Engineering Department, UET Taxila, lacking such facilities. How about your office building in Pakistan? Have you ever noticed ramps in government or private buildings where a wheelchair user can move freely without any assistance? I asked a friend about a relatively new university campus in Gujrat called the University of Gujrat. There are eights academic blocks, all a few steps higher than the ground level and none of them having a ramp for wheelchair users. However, I have been assured that all new blocks at the university will accommodate the disabled. I appreciate their efforts.
I believe our designs reflect the level of care and concern for people with special needs. Although it is the duty of the government to ensure provision of such things through its regulatory institutions, I feel that our educational institutes should also play their part. Who knows how many wheel chair users turn out in the next semester in a university? Will campuses provide ramps only when they have users at their doorsteps or when they have to wait for court orders? Considering the above three orders, it’s very likely that Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah will go an extra mile if he has to in order to protect the rights of the disabled.
All levels of the government, including local governments, need to make adequate efforts to ensure that they build an environment which meets the requirements of disabled people and that any public place or place of business is easily accessible to a disabled person as it is for the others. Lahore Development Authority (LDA) Building Regulations have been in place since 2008 and require the provision of a ramp for the disabled in all buildings. Other local authorities should also make similar provisions. There should be comprehensive by-laws on accessibility issued either by the Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners or by the Pakistan Engineering Council. Being engaged in the engineering profession, I do not find any major financial or technical issue in providing wheelchair access in existing buildings. Any good architect or engineer can easily design detachable steel ramps in existing buildings. However, I find that there is a big issue with our mindsets and insensitivity regarding this appalling issue. We need to change our mindset and raise our empathy and compassion in order to meet the needs of people.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which he might be associated.