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Time To Give The Blind A Seat At The Table

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Zahid Abdullah writes how the blind are breaking barriers by joining civil service and other professions. The government needs to do more for them and make sure they have a seat at the table.

For every insecure, abusive, gaslighting person in position of power in professional life who maneuvers to control and drags you down, there is a kind, competent and secure person who liberates you and gives you wings to fly. Professionals with disabilities are nothing less when workplace dynamics play out depending on the kind of person calling the shots in the organisation.

In fact, insecure, abusive, gas-lighting people in position of power use disability condition of a disabled professional as a convenient weapon to abuse and gaslight a disabled professional. At the same time, kind, competent and secure people in position of power repose trust in the abilities of a disabled professional, help remove access barriers at the work place and through their mentorship provide equal opportunity environment for professional growth and development.

With the advent of assistive technology and accessible digital platforms, blind people are no more willing to be contented with the crumbs falling off from the food table, if we take this analogy for access to employment and resources. In fact, the blind people have been demanding seat at the table on equal basis with others. Many have gotten the seat at the table, in diverse fields hitherto restricted to them owing to access barriers. But much more remains to be done.

In the case of Foreign Service of Pakistan, the blind have turned the tables on civil bureaucracy which has been holding them back from joining the civil service through Central Superior Service, (CSS) exam. Ever since the rules of the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) Ordinance, 1977 were amended in 2005, allowing the blind to compete in CSS examinations for the first time. 5 blind persons – Saima Saleem, Arshad Abbasi, Shahjahan, Faisal Majid and Muhammad Yousef have joined Foreign Service of Pakistan.

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This despite the fact that the blind can only join the foreign service if they are selected on merit (which constitutes only 7.5pc of all selected candidates). This restriction does not apply to other candidates. It was for the first time that the Blind persons could sit for the exams using a computer, Braille and/or with the assistance of an amanuensis.

However, despite this positive change, the dice is still heavily loaded against the blind as the successful candidates can only join four occupational groups: the audit and accounts service, and the commerce and trade, information and postal groups.

The rules of the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) Ordinance, 1977 need to be changed and all occupational groups should be opened to all the blind candidates who otherwise qualify on merit. In a just world, Faisal Majid would have been serving in Pakistan Administrative Service or Police, had the discriminatory rules not been a hindrance.

The blind professionals can process information on computer with their screen reading software at a much faster pace than their sighted counterparts. Scientific experiments have proven that a sighted person can comprehend when a person is speaking at the rate of six syllables per second, while the blind can comprehend speech set up to 25 syllables per second when they access written material on computer.

Equipped with computer knowledge and these assistive software and technologies, the blind professionals are not only getting access to information but processing it to their advantage to get employed on merit. Apart from the 5 career blind professionals working at Foreign Service of Pakistan, Aqil Sajjad in USA, Mazhar Yasin in France, Shabbir Awan, Yousef Saleem and Sardar Piarzada in Pakistan are some other blind professionals who are creating knowledge in diverse fields of quantum computing, economics, Pak-Russia relations, judiciary and journalism respectively.

All successful blind professionals have, in one way or the other, benefited from Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness, (PFFB). Especially, PFFB’s Internet Café for the Blind and Saima Ammar internship Program for the Blind, named after late Saima Ammar, beloved and respected role model for the blind in Pakistan, has played a pivotal role in equipping the blind with computer knowledge and in creating internship opportunities for the blind in private sector.

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So far, trustees and some kind donors of PFFB have been supporting the cost of internships provided to the blind. Our corporate sector should develop linkages with PFFB as it is losing potential good employees as hundreds of blind professionals with excellent computing skills and different competencies are looking out for jobs.

As more and more blind people are looking for jobs, private and public sector organisations should encourage the blind to apply for jobs through job advertisements. At the same time, organisations need to develop disability policies to ensure that the blind are provided accessible work environment as required by their special needs.

If the corporate sector wakes up and smells the coffee, gets its act together and makes its recruitment policies inclusive, it will be able to fulfill its corporate social responsibility by hiring services of the blind to make them functionally active and productive citizens.


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