We celebrate days to pay tribute and extend our gratitude to different people on different occasions. Days like Defence day, Children day, Women’s day, Peace day etc are celebrated unlike the day for Visually Impaired Persons which is celebrated and rejoiced all over the world. In Pakistan, we don’t get to observe such days with great enthusiasm unfortunately while White Cane Safety Day is celebrated on October 15 of each year since 1964 in many parts of the world. This day is dedicated to celebrate the achievements of people who are blind or visually impaired and the important symbol of blindness and tool of independence, the white cane. With this day coming, we must also promise to pledge our efforts for the welfare of Visually Impaired people individually as well as collectively.

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However, progress in social welfare of a society can be gauged from how well physically and mentally disabled individuals are being put to productive relations. The seriousness of a society in handling the disabled is reflected in the efforts put in various stages of programme development and specifically in assessing the quantum and growth of disabilities, and the way disabled people are integrated in the development process.

However, to achieve the goal of equal sharing of disabled community as an effective member of the society, it is the first and foremost responsibility of the disabled themselves to get the disabled community fully acquainted with the training, education and socialisation to be plead and protect their rights, privileges, facilities and securities with full of command and confidence. For the same reason Government of Punjab has full time agenda towards the character building of the disabled community in all respects and launching various programmes by keeping itself constantly diligent to get the prime goals of socio economics status and inclusion for the people with disabilities.

In accordance with the law, a disabled person is the one " who on account of injury, disease or congenital deformity, is handicapped for undertaking any gainful or professional employment in order to earn his livelihood, and it includes a person who is Deaf, Blind, Physically handicapped or Mentally retarded.”

According to the World Health Organisation, a disability is

"Any restriction or lack (resulting from any impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being."

In the context of employment, a more clear definition of disability is provided in the ILO Convention, ratified by Pakistan in 1994. To this convention, disabled person means "an individual whose prospects of securing; retaining and advancing in suitable employment are substantially reduced as a result of a duly recognized physical or mental impairment".

Government of Pakistan has enacted a law in order to provide for employment, rehabilitation and welfare of disabled persons in the country. The "Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance" was enacted in 1981 as a presidential ordinance. This law was promulgated during the "International Year for Disabled Persons" in 1981 to provide support to the disabled persons in finding employment in government as well as commercial and industrial establishments. Government of Pakistan has also ratified 'ILO Convention on Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of Disabled Persons'. Similarly in the last year, it has also ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Moreover, the Government of Punjab has taken a step forward, in comparison to other provinces, for the welfare and rehabilitation of the disables. Mainstreaming the special persons continues to be on the top of the government’s agenda. Social Welfare and Bait-ul-Maal departments are working on a carefully calibrated strategy for rehabilitation of the people with special needs. Accordingly, steps are being taken for provision of facilities to special persons such as imparting of technical education, and provision of jobs. 3 percent quota earmarked for special persons in public sector jobs is being implemented. Advertisements of 4275 jobs have been given whereas 3950 vacancies of different departments have been filled in different government departments at district and province level so far. Those getting these jobs included people having varied disabilities. In addition to that, more than 590 visually impaired people are working on daily wages in different departments. Private sector has also been asked to ensure compliance with quota reserved for the special persons.

In addition to that, 682 Visually Impaired Persons (VIPs), 348 deaf & dumb and 2920 Persons with Disability (PWD) have been recruited in different govternment departments. Keeping the promise of educating and providing them with bread, 601 highly educated PWDs have been recruited in different universities and colleges. Another vital achievement of Social Welfare Department is the distribution of Khidmat Cards to more than 68000 PWDs till date.

Along with steps mentioned above, 36 facilitation centres have also been set up in various districts of Punjab for resolution of problems of the special persons, which furnish complete information and guidance to the visually impaired people for getting jobs. For the rehabilitation of visually impaired persons, “Low Vision Rehabilitation Centres” have been set up in more than 13 districts of Punjab. Central facilitation centre established at Lahore is supervising all the district level centres.

The Punjab government has also removed the upper age limit for admission in any educational institution. All kinds of educational and residential expenditures have also been done away with. One seat has been reserved for special persons in every institution of higher learning. The special persons are given laptop when they get admission in any official university. The government provides the wheel chair on completion of degree. The special people have been allowed to have a helper with them in the competitive examinations. Special ID cards are being issued for the special persons so that they do not have to encounter any problem anywhere. They are being given concession of 50% in air, rail and road fares. The import of customized vehicle has been declared duty-free for special persons. Free medical facility has been provided to the special persons in all the government hospitals and dispensaries. Ten-year concession is being given in the government jobs. With all these steps taken by GOP, drafting of Punjab policy for Persons with any disability by Social Welfare Department and its submission to Cabinet Sub Committee for approval is something to look forward to.

The cooperation of civil society and special persons is vital to make these endeavors successful. Together we can play our role to make special persons useful citizens of the country. The efforts of taking to streets and blocking traffic are unwanted and in bad taste. Al-Mighty Allah may provide all of us enough courage, guidance and protection to fulfill our duties as a human being and a responsible citizen of the country and to fulfill our basic responsibility and societal role and serve mankind. Let us all devote this day to realize the hardships faced by the blind and take oath to help them rise as equally responsible citizens. I am sure our support and help might be able to light up their world. (Aameen)