12/08/2012, 00.00
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Faisalabad: Christians and Muslims call for equal opportunities, not promises, for the disabled

by Shafique Khokhar
A seminar was held to demand the removal of architectural, social and civil barriers to people with disabilities, followed by a street rally. An appeal is made to the central government to provide opportunities for integration and real equality. One proposal calls for quotas in the workplace. Muslim official says that charity and understanding are not enough; "rights and trust" are needed.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - The inclusion of people with disabilities in the social and productive fabric of society must be a priority for the future. The government must focus on providing opportunities to people with disabilities, favouring "diversity and integration" by removing architectural, social and civil barriers.

Such demands were voiced at a seminar titled 'Removing Barriers to Create an Inclusive and Accessible Society for All' that saw the participation of Christian and Muslim activists. For the latter, people with disabilities can and must contribute to the nation's development on the basis of their particular condition and the means at their disposal.

At the end of the meeting, participants took to the streets and staged a protest demanding "Access of persons with disabilities to rights". During the rally, they shouted slogans and raised banners calling for a law to uphold disabled people's rights.

Faisalabad, Punjab, was the scene of the double event, last Monday, International Day of People with Disability. The Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation (AWAM) in cooperation with the Beacon Foundation and the Society of Disabled People for Rights and Development (SDPRD) organised the seminar and the peaceful demonstration.

Activists want the government to pass serious legislation that would guarantee full integration of all Pakistani citizens, including the disabled minority.

AWAM Executive Secretary Naseem Anthony complained to AsiaNews about the "lack of policy and legislative measures and infrastructural support."

However, Muslim lawmaker Anjum Safdar noted that "a new disability bill has been presented in the steering committee, which will be passed and enforced soon".

Similarly, as a leading promoter of the new bill, Christian lawmaker Razia Joseph said that "coordination among concerned government departments is an imperative for integrating disability registration process into one window operation." If adopted, the draft legislation would set up a quota for the disabled in the workplace, especially in the Punjab public service.

Women's rights advocate Nazia Sardar, a Christian, wants to see the creation of an environment that would allow people with disabilities to express their potential as well as provide them with access to "healthcare, education, transport, information and other services."

A Muslim government official, Muhammad Tahir Chaudhry, agrees. In his view, the disabled do not need "charity and understanding" but of "rights and trust."

Sajid Ali, from the SDPRD, and Yasir Rana, of the Beacon Foundation, both Muslim, appealed to the government to turn promises into real policies and implement them.

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