Exchanging ideas: exploring disability policy in the US and Pakistan

Munazza Gillani, May 2017
Pakistan delegates with the MIUSA team.

“It was a wonderful experience for our very diverse group of participants”

I recently had the honour of participating in the US/Pakistan Disability Policy Professional Exchange Programme, held in Eugene, Oregon, and Berkeley, California, in the USA.

The programme was sponsored by the United States Embassy in Pakistan and managed by Mobility International USA (MIUSA), a disability-led non-profit organisation based in Eugene, dedicated to advancing disability rights globally.

My fellow participants and I were invited to the US on the basis of our knowledge, experience and contribution in the field of disability to the empowerment of people with disabilities in Pakistan.

It was a wonderful experience for our very diverse group of participants. I was joined by others from Pakistani development organisations, as well as disability activists, representatives of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), government, the civil service and parliamentarians. Over the course of 10 days, we were given many opportunities to meet and exchange experiences with people from different walks of life in relation to disability policy, legislation and advocacy in the USA.

The key thematic focus of the programme was on the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, including its history and enactment. It also focused on inclusive development, inclusive education, inclusive health services, adaptive recreation, early childhood care, and working with children with learning disabilities. We met several champions of the ADA who had fought for its enactment. They shared their stories of success, but also of the challenges they faced.


A law is needed in Pakistan

One of the key things I took away from the programme is that the ADA has been successful because the law includes measures to ensure it is implemented and enforced. In other words, it’s a law with teeth! This strengthens my view that we need a law in Pakistan with similar provisions, adapted to our national context, that can actually make the state and society accountable for implementation and enforcement.

The programme ended with day-long deliberations by the MIUSA experts and the participants on an action plan for Pakistan and a final evaluation of the exchange programme.

As part of this action planning exercise, and given the current strategic objectives of Sightsavers, I have a personal commitment to work with the disability network in Pakistan and advocate more rigorously for the Pakistan Disability Act, which is currently under consideration by the standing committee of the national parliament.

We will employ all the relevant advocacy strategies that have worked very well for the American disability movement and the successful implementation of the ADA. The first step towards this milestone has already been taken with the announcement of the Pakistan Disability Act Task Force, comprising the participants of the US/Pakistan Disability Policy Professional Exchange Programme. This task force is now working very closely with parliamentarians who were also part of the exchange programme.

We hope all these efforts will bear fruit very soon and we will have strong legislation in the form of a Pakistan Disability Act to bring positive change to the lives of people with disabilities.

Of course, we were also able to share our experiences with our hosts.

A community event was organised at the University of Oregon, entitled ‘Champions for Disability Inclusion: Perspectives from Pakistan’, where we had the chance to meet, learn and share with all the government stakeholders and community champions who have played a great role in empowering people with disabilities by working closely with MIUSA.

In Eugene, we had a fascinating meeting with the Mayor and City Manager, where we heard about the systems and mechanisms in place in the city that have made it completely accessible and sensitised towards the rights of people with disabilities.

In a short blog like this it is impossible to do justice to the rich and varied programme, but I would like to thank all the organisations and individuals who helped to make this such an enriching and useful experience, especially MIUSA, the US State Department, Disability Rights Education and Defence Fund, the Pacific ADA Center, the Berkeley Outreach and Recreation Program, the Center for Independent Living, the staff of the Ed Roberts Campus at Berkeley, and the Special Talent Exchange Programme (STEP) for nominating me to attend this fantastic event.

By Munazza Gillani, Sightsavers’ Pakistan Country Director

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