Potohar Mental Health Association (PMHA) hosted a auspicious gathering of the respective individuals from all walks of life for celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities. International Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed on 03rd December every year, with the overall objective of highlighting the issues, problems and solutions related to persons living with disabilities around the globe.
The Day provides an opportunity for all the stakeholders working on Disability issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make disability sensitization a reality for people worldwide. This year’s theme is “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want”.
Farah Zulqurnain Vice President PMHA served as host and in attendance were Maliha Husain Executive Director Mehrgarh, Ammar Masood CEO Aap Communications, Farrah Naz Country Representative Country office Pakistan CBM International, Visually Impaired Students, Special Educators, Development Practitioners, Psychologists, Health Care Professionals and Media officials.
Zulqurnain Asghar President PMHA was the facilitator of the session. He welcomed the distinguished guests. He started the discussion drawing on his insights from his own professional experience of working with persons living with disabilities. He enlightened the audience about the basic theme in the compassionate context. He alluded to how the population in Pakistan of 200 million people is rapidly growing out of which 30 million are persons living with disabilities which is the 15% of the population including 15 million women/ girls living with disabilities. He informed the audience that individuals living with disabilities face serious kind of discrimination and unfortunately their identification is their disability instead of their real name.
Zulqurnain touched upon physical barriers persons living with disabilities face, sharing how they are not catered to in major infrastructure plans all over the country. “As of now, only few Metro bus stations in Islamabad-Rawalpindi have accessibility facilities for person living with disabilities,” he shared.
He called upon all governments to translate promises into action: Every year, officials make promises for providing special amenities and facilities for the persons living with disabilities; but every year, these promises are not fulfilled, only to be repeated next year. Even the implementation status of various amenities or jobs offered is questionable.
He then announced that a dedicated disability helpline providing counseling services to persons living with disabilities and their families, along with referring to relevant professionals, will start operational from February 2017. The initiative is being worked by Potohar Mental Health Association (PMHA), a non-government organization working on mental health of children, youth and adults including persons living with disabilities.
He lamented there is not a single helpline in the entire South Asia; PMHA’s helpline, the first of its kind, he claimed, will even provide training services. Zulqurnain outlined how persons living with disabilities have to face what he called “attitudinal barriers” laid down by the people around. Often, people with their acts, such as name callings, end up ostracizing the persons living with disabilities.
The point was further endorsed by Ammar Masood, CEO Aap Communications, who asked visually impaired students not to be led by negativity; instead, he encouraged them to invest in education, which will help them get good work opportunity, resulting into an attitudinal change among the people toward the people with disabilities. He encouraged them to learn computers, which will help them connect with the world. He informed the audience of his efforts in to educating 4000 children living with visual impairment after the death of his beloved wife who was a woman with visual impairment. After concluding his talk a documentary by Aap Communication “SABAQ” was played for the audience.
Maliha Husain Executive Director Mehrgarh shared that persons living with disabilities are more vulnerable to sexual harassment; there is thus a need to inform more and more people about informing them that sexual harassment is now a crime, which can be reported to the relevant authorities. She encouraged the women / girls living with disabilities to strengthen their coping skills to face and deal with any kind of harassment / violence from domestic level to workplace.
The concluding address was delivered by the chief guest Farrah Naz Country Representative Country Office Pakistan, CBM International. She spoke about the overall situation of persons living with disabilities in Pakistan. She highlighted the importance of DPO’s specialists stepping in. She emphasized that women / girls living with disabilities face violence and harassment at almost every step of their life and they should be brave enough to raise their voices and seek the professional help from respective professionals (law enforcement agencies, mental health practitioners etc).
The audience was then beckoned for tea / refreshment as the event came to an end, leaving the participants motivated and encouraged for the cause of Disability Sensitization in Pakistan.
This event was sponsored by Sadhu’s Retreat, Cheema and Chattha Restaurant and some local generous donors of PMHA.