A recent decision by Pakistan’s Supreme Court directs the federal and provincial governments to take steps to fully realize equal participation of people with disabilities. The court ruling was in response to a petition from a person with a disability denied a job as an elementary school teacher in the city of Multan.
Pakistani law requires that 2 percent of people employed by an establishment be “disabled persons.” In the absence of reliable data, estimates of the number of people living with disabilities in Pakistan wildly vary from 3.3 million to 27 million. Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011.
The court held that the 2 percent employment figure must be implemented at every tier of an establishment. The decision upheld the reasonable accommodation principle recognized in the Disability Rights Convention, holding that mere provision of employment is not sufficient. The Pakistani authorities also have an obligation to provide necessary and appropriate adjustments including accessible infrastructure, assistive technology, modifications to the work environment, and other forms of support so that people with disabilities, once appointed to a position, can effectively perform their job.
The Supreme Court also ordered the federal and provincial governments to discontinue the use in all official documents and correspondence of derogatory terms such as “disabled,” “physically handicapped,” and “mentally retarded,” and instead use “persons with disabilities” or “persons with different abilities.” This is to be applauded: government labels shape public perceptions.
The court’s ruling has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people across the country. Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments have a responsibility to not only implement this decision but to also reform laws and policies to ensure they are in complete conformity with the country’s international human rights obligations.