Supreme Court prohibits words ‘disabled’, ‘mentally retarded’, ‘physically handicapped’

The words can no longer be used in official correspondence

By Cutacut Editorial Team

KARACHI: It wasn’t long ago that the Supreme Court of Pakistan hinted towards a ban on Youtube on account of objectionable content. The court’s latest ban, however, has been towards a more sensitive cause. In a verdict released on 14th August, the Supreme Court encouraged the use of mindful vocabulary when addressing persons with disabilities. The words ‘disabled’, ‘mentally retarded’, and ‘physically handicapped’ can no longer be used.

“The Federal Government and the Provincial Governments are directed to discontinue the use of these words in official correspondence, directives, notifications and circulars and shift to ‘persons with disabilities’ or ‘persons with different abilities’,” the judgement authored by Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah noted.

“Disability means lacking one or more physical powers, such as the ability to walk or to coordinate one’s movements, as from the effects of a disease or accident, or through mental impairment. According to the UN Convention on the Rights Of Persons With Disabilities ratified by Pakistan in 2011, persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

The verdict was a result of an appeal by Ubaidullah, who had applied for the post of senior elementary school educator, Arabic, in Multan on the quota for people with disabilities (PWD). “Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance, 1981 has a Disability Quota of 2%,” elaborated the judgement. “In the present case the posts advertised for SESE [Arabic] were 81 which allows for one post in the Disability Quota, while if the Disability Quota is worked out on the total sanctioned strength of the posts of SESE [Arabic] it comes to 5 posts and 4 more PWDs could have been appointed against the said posts against the advertisement in question.” However, only one person, Asma Qasim, was appointed under the quota.

The judgement went on to talk about the disrespect and offense that words like ‘retarded’ and ‘handicapped’ pose towards differently abled individuals. The barriers that such individuals face in social and professional settings were also addressed. The biggest hurdle remains acceptability. With many employers translating a person’s physical impairment into their incompetence, many differently abled individuals are not provided with the opportunities they deserve. Infrastructural barriers also exist in places which do not grant access to individuals with disabilities. Consequently, they are unable to become financially independent or confident in their abilities.

The judgement concluded, “The Convention provides that no one can be discriminated on the ground of disability and obligates the State to take steps to provide Reasonable Accommodation in order to provide inclusion and access to persons with disabilities in the society.”


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