Last week, 30-year-old Haleema Sarwar became the first visually impaired student in the 100-year history of NED University to complete a degree. Sarwar was awarded an MS in Applied English Linguistics at the 31st convocation of the NED University. Initially, the university administration was reluctant to admit Sarwar as the classes were running during the evening shift only. In the past, Sarwar was also rejected by mainstream educational institutes for jobs due to her visual impairment. Despite this, Sarwar maintained her resolve and emerged successful.
In Pakistan, persons with special needs continue to face stigmatisation and isolation, which is why Sarwar’s feat is crucial as it will inspire special persons across the country to pursue their dreams. Technological advancements, particularly assistive technology which includes specialised programmes and software, have made it easier for individuals to perform tasks. Instead of establishing separate institutes for the visually impaired and other disabled persons, mainstream institutes should be urged to incorporate diverse forms of technology and adaptive tools to welcome all students. Relevant government departments should work with the education department as well as the business community to adopt holistic measures to diversify the workforce. Public places should be made user-friendly by ensuring that the infrastructure is accessible for persons with impairments.
Without structural changes and widespread inclusion, our society will remain unreceptive to people with special needs. This discrimination will ultimately harm the country as a significant proportion of the population will remain out of education and the workforce. Thus, Haleema Sarwar’s achievement should be taken as a sign to change our attitudes and policies. To ensure that all individuals are socially, politically and economically empowered, everyone should be offered the same opportunities. Special needs persons should be allowed to excel and live their lives independently.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2022.