The Punjab government’s ‘Empowerment of People with Different Abilities Act 2021’ is obviously a badly needed piece of legislation in a country which, according to the Pakistan Housing Survey 2017, has about 31 million people living with disabilities of all kinds. Most of these people live in Punjab. Other surveys are currently being carried out by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and other groups. As noted by the Lahore High Court, when hearing a petition filed on the basis of public interest, the lawyers who drafted the law and submitted it to the Punjab Assembly deserve a lot praise for trying to help this group of people. It should be noted that one of the petitioners, Sana Khurshid, is a disabled activist herself and has worked tirelessly for the rights of people with various types of disabilities. The problem is that while the laws regularly appear in our law books, they are very rarely applied. In this case, the file must be followed at every stage. We already have regulations in place that require government organizations and private companies to hire people with disabilities in order to give them the right to earn a living. This does not happen often and if it does, it is only in rare cases. In this sense, the new law imposed itself cruelly.
The next step is to get the numbers and data correct. Although there are some provisions for people with hearing and other disabilities in schools and other institutions, limited facilities exist for others with different types of challenges and abilities, and few are willing to offer them jobs. A few activists did a lot in getting the law passed and persuading the committee to read it and make it a reality. The next question is whether it can be applied fairly across the province and then across the country. It is not an easy task at the moment. But steps in the right direction are essential. All over the world, we have people with different abilities or facing various physical challenges who have achieved prominent positions in their field of work. There are many other examples of people excelling in their field despite having a major disability. Pakistan must move in the same direction and the law, which is now in place in the Punjab statutes, is a step in the direction that we must follow.