Celebrating Disability: Pakistan’s Inspiring Disabled Women

Islamabad-In Pakistan, where government is even not ready for the headcount of persons with disabilities in 2017 census, the challenges faced by disabled women are immense. History always overlooked disability, writes Finlo Rohrer for BBC News Magazine. And of course there was always an incentive for disabled people to downplay or even hide their disability.  Paralysed from the waist down for more than a decade before becoming the US president, Roosevelt also made great efforts to hide his disability.

“The concept of disabled people as one identity is a 20th century thing,” says Sociologist Tom Shakespeare, author of Disability Rights and Wrongs. But in Pakistan, there were three blind women who not only celebrated their disability but also made remarkable contribution in the lives of thousands of visually impaired persons.

The history of women activism in Pakistan and welfare of Persons with disabilities will remain incomplete if the names of three blind women late, Dr Fatima Shah, Dr Salma Maqbool and Saima Ammar will not be mentioned. Being women and special persons, the milestones they achieved are enough to raise all praise for them. The names and services of these women are well-known to the people who have any concern for welfare of Pakistan and its people. All of them really deserve the highest civil awards of Pakistan for their services for humanity in general and for special persons in particular.

But, unfortunately, no official recognition for their services for the persons with disabilities has been made so far. The government authorities must consider for conferring these women with the awards they deserved in their lifetime.

Specially, the visually impaired persons of the country would never forget the services of Saima Ammar (late) among these iconic ladies.  Saima did not even herself lead an exemplary life despite being blind, but she also became the main source of lighting the vigil for the education of thousands of other visually impaired persons. Under her leadership, Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness (PFFB) recorded the text books’ course of all the Education Boards and affiliated universities of the country, in the form of audio cassettes. It is only because of her that these audio cassettes are available to the blind students at very nominal prices. For instance, the BA course of Punjab University, in the form of 200 recorded cassettes, is available to a candidate, on the application of financial assistance, for Rs100 only. Around 4500 visually impaired students got benefited through this programme of PFFB during her life.

Top government officials including presidents, Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers were well aware of her contributions for this country.

But, unfortunately, no official recognition for her services for the persons with disabilities has been made so far. If we will continue to forget remarkable disable persons like Saima Ammar, we cannot overcome prevalent negative perception regarding Disable people in our society. Therefore, it is very important to keep them alive in our history through honoring them with national awards and adding their biographical stories in our educational curriculum.

Besides her services in formal education for the special persons, Saima Ammar also devoted her time to relish the appetite of visually impaired persons for literature. She got several poetry, novel, fiction, biography and other publications recorded on audio cassettes. These cassettes are further dispatched to the thousands of blind persons in the country, by the registered post service, for free.

Saima did not only highlight the issues and the problems faced by the special persons in the country, but even going one step ahead, she put all her efforts for the solution of these problems. Her father, Brigadier (R) Niaz was an old associate of General (R) Pervez Musharraf. Saima made a positive and healthy use of this relationship, and got succeeded in getting the doors of government jobs open for the persons with disabilities. It is only because of her efforts that today the disabled aspirants can also appear in the competition exams like CSS, and some of them have even secured top positions in these exams.

With the help of her husband, Ammar Masood, TV anchor, and her father-in-law, famous poet Anwar Masood, Saima also represented the special persons in media and created awareness regarding their rights in the society.

Saima Ammar, Chief Executive Officer of PFFB, lost her eyesight at the age of two-and-a-half. Her optic nerve was totally damaged following a severe attack of typhoid in 1971. Saima’s started her education in Pakistan at the Al-Maktoum Special Education Centre, did her matric from Station School, and graduated from F G College for Women. Her biggest dream was to get a Masters degree in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University which she achieved with distinction.

Saima was an inspiration for visually-impaired people across the globe since her education programme will benefit millions of visually-impaired people in years to come. Saima Ammar passed away on 22 December 2011, but she left a success story for the persons with disabilities to follow in Pakistan.

By: Iftikhar Hussain Jazib

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