Karachi: Government institutions in Sindh have 42,000 job openings for disabled people but their implementation in most departments falls terribly short. Neither do these institutions employ physically challenged people nor do they alter their infrastructure to ease access for them, says Social Welfare Department’s Deputy Director Riaz Fatima.
Under government regulations, every commercial or office building should have basic accessibility features for physically challenged people to obtain a completion certificate, but most of the buildings violate these regulations.
Deputy Director of Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) Nadeem Khan told News Lens Pakistan that according to the laws of SBCA and Karachi Building & Town Planning Regulations (KBTPR) 2002, a building must have minimum two per cent conveniently-located disabled parking spaces, a disabled toilet and a wheel-chair ramp at ground floor.
He said, “The ramp should have a “height-to-length ratio of 1:12” which means that if the ground floor is a foot above grade level, the ramp should be 12 feet long and at least four feet wide.
The regulations also call for wheelchair friendly bathrooms for physically challenged people.”
Nishat Ahmed, the General Secretary of the Association for Handicapped Adults, said the National Database Registration Authority and Civil Aviation Authority were hiring two percent disabled employees. In the remaining departments, he said, candidates with political clout who submit fake disability certificates were filling the posts.
None of the government universities in Karachi have these basic accessibility features, despite reserving two percent seats for disabled candidates. Ali Hassan, the only physically challenged student among the 50,000 studying in University of Karachi, finds it burdensome to rely on others to go upstairs in order to attend classes. He is also unable use the washrooms when he is at the campus.
Dean of Education at FUAAST and the former Chairperson of Special Education Department at University of Karachi Shahida Sajjad said, “The University of Karachi and Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology (FUAAST), both have departments of Special Education. Ironically, none of the students in the department is physically challenged.” “Besides the Special Education Department, none of the other departments at both universities have ramps for wheelchair users,” she added.
Though the Supreme Court and Sindh High Court buildings do have ramps for wheelchair users, the City Court, which is attended by thousands of litigants each day, does not. Hundreds of people visiting the facility face a lot of trouble when climbing up the large staircase to enter the Court House.
Interestingly, the court management had found a way around this problem, said Khalid Mumtaz, the Secretary Karachi Bar Association. “For the litigants unable to walk up to the courtroom, a commissioner appointed for the job takes their statements and then forwards it to the relevant court for further proceedings,” he explained. The City Court building had been declared a heritage site hence its structure cannot be altered.
Shahida Sajjad told News Lens Pakistan that back in 2012, the Sindh government together with the Department of Special Education at University of Karachi and other independent organizations had formulated a policy for improving accessibility for disabled people.
Giving more details about the project, she said the Sindh government had issued 1,300 disability cards to people in Karachi, Larkana, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Shikarpur and Shaheed Benazirabad districts.
Under the same project, she further added, a team from the Institute of Architects Pakistan had pointed out some specific changes to buildings and public places for implementing the accessibility codes. Such public places also included the Karachi Cantt station whose ramps were mostly used for offloading cargo.
“However, the officials were reshuffled soon afterwards and the policy had remained shelved ever since,” she said.
Riaz Fatima, the Deputy Director Social Welfare Department, said the Sindh government this year, had reconstituted the Provincial Council of Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons which consisted of 18 members including the Secretary of Social Welfare Department, government officers and representatives from independent organizations.
An unfriendly city
On the other hand, Khalid Iraqi, the Admissions Director at Karachi University argued that hardly any disabled student approached the University for admission on disability basis. “A couple of years ago there were two blind gold medalists in the Urdu department but they had been accepted on open merit,” he said. “The vacant seats were then offered to regular candidates.”
The Dean of Dawood College of Engineering and Technology Rashid Baig agreed with Iraqi’s statement. He said even in the past decade he did not remember any physically challenged student applying for the admission.
However, Engineer Roland DeSouza of Shehri, an environmental advocacy group tackling violations of building codes in the city, explained, “We do not see wheelchair users in public because the most of them cannot afford their own transport and they remain unable to use public transport at all,” he said.
He held Karachi was hardly friendly to the people walking on its streets; so, it was understandable that physically challenged people chose to stay at home since they couldn’t move around independently. Another problem, he said, was of space constraints. There isn’t enough space in Karachi to build special parking places or even ramps.