Anyone, at any time and anywhere, can fall victim to poverty. However, some factors exist that put some individuals more at risk than others, and disabilities increase the likelihood of families living in poverty. In 2019, 25.9% of disabled people in the United States lived in poverty, more than double the rate for those without disabilities. The specially-abled face higher barriers when trying to find success in their lives and become financially stable. The connection between unemployment and disability remains serious: “half of all working age adults who experience at least one year of poverty have a disability.” In Pakistan, a country where the poverty rate is 5.4%, poverty amongst the specially-abled is significantly higher.
Physical Barriers and Poverty
- Health care: One reason for the physically challenged to fall into a state of poverty in Pakistan is the lack of adequate health care. Persons with disabilities are more likely to need extra resources and different types of treatment that are not easily accessible. Health care disparities arise due to societal stigma and a lack of policy changes to provide care that appropriately meets the needs of the specially-abled. There are relatively few advocates in Pakistan who are actively trying to open up more health care options for persons with disabilities. Such environments make it more difficult for poverty-stricken and physically challenged individuals in Pakistan to seek health care.
- Employment: The most significant cause of poverty among people with disabilities is the lack of employment opportunities they have. Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011. Pakistani law mandates 2% of hired employees in Pakistani institutions need to be specially-abled individuals, but this law is not always put into practice. For example, a study shows that government departments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province in Pakistan, are not meeting the 2% requirement.
- Education: Finally, a lack of education is a risk factor for poverty as it prohibits individuals from reaching a level of financial stability. It was found that, while education is accessible for many specially-abled children, rates of actual literacy remain low. More specifically, literacy rates for children with disabilities were much lower than those of their non-disabled peers. Regardless of socioeconomic status and family background, physically challenged students are not receiving the level of education necessary to reach the same standards of comprehension.
Evidently, many factors lead to the presence of poverty amongst the specially abled. The Pakistan Society for the Rehabilitation of the Differently Abled (PSRD) is a nonprofit organization working to bring specially-abled people out of poverty by focusing on health care, employment and education. Based in Lahore, Pakistan, the organization has worked with the population through the following programs:
- Vocational Rehabilitation Center: PSRD allows poverty-stricken and differently-abled individuals to maximize vocational skills. With an aim to eradicate the employment difficulties its students face, the center provides loans to jumpstart businesses. Those who receive help are better able to provide for themselves by becoming entrepreneurs and selling their own, handmade products. With their businesses, beneficiaries of the center are more capable of acquiring their own income and successfully support themselves.
- PSRD Hospital: In an effort to make health care more accessible for the specially abled, PSRD’s 100-bed orthopedic hospital is one of the largest in Pakistan. It provides specialized services for the needs of those facing physical barriers. The hospital does not refuse any patients and patients receive services at low or no cost depending on their situation.
- Orthotic and Prosthetic Center: With limited access to affordable resources, many physically challenged individuals are unable to obtain prosthetics and artificial limbs that ease their day-to-day lives and open up more employment options. PSRD creates customized prosthetics and approximately 3,900 patients have benefited from the center.
- PSRD High School: Education plays a large part in the road to employment and a successful future. By focusing on youth who are specially-abled, PSRD hopes to ignite the talent of all students so that they can lead better lives. The school also serves the needs of each of its students by providing therapy programs and making classes accessible for the most underprivileged children. The high school’s ultimate goal is to release the potential in each student and better “integrate” students into society.
People with physical disabilities are far more likely to face poverty than their non-physically disabled counterparts. With health care disabilities, limited employment options and lower high education rates, poverty may be inevitable for many specially-abled individuals. Organizations such as PSRD in Pakistan are working to empower differently-abled persons and provide them with the resources needed to persevere through their challenges and reach their goals. PSRD works to dismantle poverty amongst the specially-abled in Pakistan.
– Mariam Kazmi