The term ‘social inclusion’ has been widely used in literature for the marginalised community of a society, as a concept to help bring assistance to the deprived through policy making. Defining social inclusion is hard and complex as it is a multi-layered concept. The underlying meaning can be understood as being provided with all the basic necessities, opportunities and resources to an individual in order for them to have an equal stake in society; socially, economically, culturally and politically. According to the World Bank Group, social inclusion is a process of improving the social means through which deprived individuals can become part of the social setting. Consequently, it is a process of improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of those disadvantaged on the basis of their identity to take part in society.
Social inclusion of persons with physical disability is a notion of great importance for the development of a progressive society. Disability is a condition caused due to physical, cognitive, or mental impairment faced by individuals. Disabled persons are regrettably the group of people who are at a higher risk of social exclusion because of their conditions. Physically disabled people have to face social exclusion from a very young age due to the many hardships and barriers existing in society. Social exclusion is a form of discrimination which causes individuals to face challenges based on income generation, lack of meeting everyday necessities, i.e., education, health, housing, and inability to participate as normal individuals in daily relationships and activities.
Excluding the physically challenged from the society contributes in giving rise to a sense of ‘us and them’ in the community. To improve the overall social setting of the deprived is not just based on providing with equal opportunity, but to create a social setting where such individuals have an opportunity to experience a sense of belonging. In Pakistan, according to British Council Report on Mainstreaming Persons with Disabilities in Pakistan (2014), there are 27 million people with disabilities. And it may be costing Pakistan around 4.9% and 6.3% of GDP each year. Due to high level of exclusion and lack of engagement with the disabled people, Pakistan is not just being affected economically, but these people are facing adverse conditions due to negative attitude of the society. It is to be acknowledged that being part of the society is necessary as it helps in creating identity of an individual. In the context of Pakistan, individuals with physical disabilities are unfortunately not acknowledged in the community. Consequently, they are more likely to experience poor health, isolation and low self-esteem.
There are many international organisations, such as, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Health Organization (WHO), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and International Labour Organization (ILO), which are working and facilitating in providing better conditions to the disabled community globally. At the national level, in 2002, Pakistan issued its first ‘National Policy on the Issue of Disability’. The policy required a multi-dimensional response from the civil society, NGOs, government and local bodies, to actively take part in providing favourable conditions to the disabled. In addition, there are a number of private and public NGOs such as, Pakistan Disabled Foundation, Pakistan Association of Deaf, Pakistan Society for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled and many more, which are working to bridge the gap between the disabled and rest of the community.
However, according to UNICEF (2012), the progress rate at which Pakistan is improving the conditions and providing for an inclusive society for its disabled people is slow. Even as of now, there is lack of awareness in the society towards the knowledge about physically disabled people. Moreover, the last census held in 2017, was accorded as an unplanned and ineffective procedure to ensure inclusion of the disabled persons. As a consequence, there is limited access and research available with regards to the conditions and problems faced by the disabled living within the state. Such circumstances continue to pose great challenges in developing and forming perceptions in relation to the disabled people found within the society.
Primarily, the state has a very central and responsible role towards social inclusion, as it develops policies, laws, regulations, and allocates the budget. Thus, it is of great importance for Pakistan’s government to provide equal access to the disabled – politically, economically and socially. Moreover, the non-disabled people of the society have an equal part to play. The civil society should create means to interact with the disabled through organising cultural activities and programmes which provide an opportunity to understand the norm/perception of disability itself. Furthermore, in a developing state like Pakistan, civil society can alleviate the burden from the state itself through initiating community based mechanisms for the purpose of rehabilitation of the disabled. Currently, there are a number of projects undertaken through different NGO’s as well as public sector to bring change. One such project was undertaken by Human Resource Development Society (HRDS) in collaboration with the international organisation Sightsavers, in Jalozai Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp (in KPK province). In order to improve the social inclusion of people with disabilities, they provided accessible water and sanitation facilities to the disabled for appropriate health and hygiene conditions.
Additionally, the role of disabled people is of immense importance as well. Active participation from people within their community can help lobby for their rights and raise voice for the marginalised people. There are various networks such as Pakistan Disability Persons Organisation and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Disability Forum, that help in providing assistance to the disabled. But in order to increase social inclusion, all these forums will have to work together in order to have effective change and mainstreaming of an equal rights based approach for all.
Social inclusion is an integral and fundamental requirement towards a progressive society. It is the basic human right and individual responsibility. This notion not only helps in minimising the acts of division, discrimination and prejudice found within the society, but allow strategies which help in the formation of relations between people regardless of any differences. Thus, social inclusion is of great significance for the overall harmony of the society. In a state like Pakistan, which is already facing economic, political, security and social issues, solving the challenges of the disabled community seems regrettably not a priority.
Through more interaction and communication, the structural and social barriers can be eliminated. Such measures will eventually help in changing the perception of the idea of disability itself, in the society. For such progressiveness, an integrated approach is necessary, which is only possible if the state, society and the disabled community all work together. In order to create a sense of belonging for the disabled, the division on the basis of ‘us and them’ has to diminish within the society. This will not only help the disabled to create and avail opportunities for themselves but will also be beneficial for whole of the social setting of Pakistan. HH
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