Khuddar Pakistan - helping persons with disabilities
by Ayesha Sajid
Just like any other developing country, Pakistan faces a variety of diverse social issues: low literacy rates, lack of health facilities, limited access to potable water, environmental degradation and unemployment โ to name a few. Some of these issues are highlighted due to a variety of factors such as government interest, NGO interventions and placement on international targets such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Unfortunately, disability is one issue that has never really received the attention it deserves and has not been high on the priority list.
Disability, as a social problem, is very real in Pakistan. Although the data available is somewhat limited, it is estimated that at least one in every eight families have a member who suffers from some form of disability. Percentage figure estimates the range to be from anywhere between 2.5% to 10% of the total population. It is a sad fact that disability is not properly understood and disabled persons are not treated with the respect they deserve. It is, however, heartening to see a number of role models in the disabled community who have taken the challenge to prove that persons with disabilities are no less than any able-bodied person.
In this environment of social barriers and limited opportunities, Telenor Pakistan has recently launched โKhuddar Pakistanโ โ an initiative to engage and include persons with disabilities in organisational as well as social folds. โIt all started when we on-boarded an intern about a year back,โ states Director Corporate Communication & Responsibility Telenor Pakistan Syed Hasnat Masood. โShabbir is blind, but he ended up opening our eyes to the potential persons with disabilities have and helped us overcome many myths that we hold on a personal level.โ
Through Khuddar Pakistan, Telenor Pakistan is looking to become the most disabled-friendly corporate sector organisation in Pakistan. It will be interesting to see if, as a result of this initiative, other organisations will step forward to contribute in a similar manner.
Telenor Pakistan has taken Special Talent Exchange Program (STEP) on board as their disability advisor, which is a cross disability, self-help organisation, working towards promoting empowerment, independence and inclusion of persons with disabilities across Pakistan. With the help of such organisations, Telenor Pakistan is looking to develop the expertise that will enable the organisation to understand the task at hand. It is not by any means an easy task but it is a humble beginning that will transpire motivation and inspiration in the disabled community.
CEO STEP Atif Sheikh feels strongly about disability and has been working with Telenor Pakistan to integrate persons with disabilities across various platforms. He believes that โdisabled people face a multitude of barriers in their daily life. We treat disability as an exceptional circumstance that requires special provision which serves only to maintain divisions and lack of understanding between non-disabled and disabled people. In recent years, however, many public and private sector entities have gradually realised that their work practices and policies fall short of fulfilling the needs, rights and aspirations of disabled people who are their clients, customers and coworkers.โ
To bring about awareness and insight into the needs and issues of persons with disabilities, Khuddar Pakistan is looking towards the support of media to bring about a change in stereotypical attitudes and notions towards persons with disabilities. A show on Radio Pakistan by the name of โKhuddar Pakistanโ has been launched that highlights issues and remedial actions that need to be taken to make a difference. Telenor Pakistan has also prepared a comprehensive service manual pertaining to information about the rights and benefits available to persons with disabilities from the government of Pakistan.
Blogging is another aspect of social media that can play a significant part in shaping public opinion and molding perceptions at a subconscious level. Telenor Pakistan recently held a Disability Awareness Training (DAT) for bloggers at its headquarters in which bloggers were introduced to the issues of disability with the assistance of representatives from STEP. Sign language and assistive software demonstrations were the highlights of the event. This event helped the bloggers gain an insight into the most basic of accessibility and mobility issues that persons with disabilities face on a daily basis.
The initiatives are not just externally focused; Telenor Pakistan is also hiring persons with disabilities on merit. Telenor Pakistan currently has 17 persons with disabilities as employees. Their experiences speak louder than words. A young intern Shahbaz Siddiqui, who is deaf and mute, quoted his experience with the company as a wonderful learning opportunity. โIt was a wonderful experience to do an internship with Telenor Pakistan. It has an enriching work environment. Before my internship, none of the employees were familiar with sign language but after my internship, many employees now know how to converse with people with hearing disability. The attitude of the management team and the other employees was very encouraging. They all treated me like an equal. They praised me if I did something good and also corrected me if I did anything wrong. My colleagues appreciated my work and assisted me whenever I needed their help. I also really enjoyed giving sign language trainings and interacting with my colleagues.โ
Telenor Pakistan has also taken the initiative to make their buildings and parking areas accessible for persons with disabilities and set up assistive technology training labs with the National Institute for Special Education. Manager IRCD STEP Ali Shabbar, who is partially visually impaired, narrates his experience with assistive software that enables him to use the internet as life-changing. He goes on to say, โModern technology brings a significant change in the quality of life of persons with disabilities. There are many screen reader software available in the market. They are helpful for visually impaired persons in reading books using a computer and checking mails as they are voice enabled. Through the assistive technology labs that Telenor Pakistan and Sight Savers International have set up, I can feel the difference in the quality of my life.โ
In addition to awareness initiatives about perceptions and behaviors, real individual and corporate efforts are required from various segments of the society in order to bring about a change in the lives of the disabled community. Hopefully, Telenor Pakistanโs corporate responsibility initiative is just the first step towards an empowered, enlightened khuddar Pakistan.
Mail from: Imran Ghazi (Special Talent Exchange Program (STEP)