“I was not disabled in America”
It was honor for me to be the part of International Visitor Leadership training program in USA as it empowered, encouraged and had been a life time experience for me. It is worth mentioning here that during the said visit my earnest dreams come true as I lived independent life there, which was not possible in my own country because of accessibility issues. It was the very first time I feel myself a blessed human being because I could enter any place I wish, it may be any building , public place or shopping mall, every place was totally accessible in states and there was a feeling of independence that I ever wished to move like this, it was a feeling of comfort wherever I traveled on public buses and train with my non-disabled friends, and the sense of being disabled disappeared and lost as we all were equal rightful and valued human beings, without and discrimination and sense of deprivation. It made my belief stronger that no doubt “God is greatest creator” and disability lies nowhere in humans but outer in society, in public opinions, ideas and infrastructures. It is the system that creates barriers and breeds discrimination among humans.
In the beginning we were briefed about the training purpose and objectives that made us feel at home with all proceedings during stay. We all were told about checking in, checking out and using hotel services and money as well. That kept us at ease. Our group consisted of 6 members and 2 E.L.Os that had been great help and support, Specially E.L.Os presence had been very positive during the stay.
We the trainees got an opportunity to visit different human rights institutions including, Government, Semi-Government, and Non Governmental Institutions. Including children rights, women rights, civil rights, UN department, protection of Law, Disability Rights, Prisoners Rights, Reservation Areas, Shelters, Journalist Rights, Violence Against women , Gender based equality, immigrants Rights ,Refugees Right, Domestic Violence, human Trafficking, equal employment opportunity, poverty elevation and citizen rights as well. The representatives of all the institutions we visited presented us in detail their activities, objectives, working methods, Funding criteria as well that helped us understand their scope of work and focused areas the said institution were serving, and our queries were well answered.
The program was well planed and properly scheduled keeping in view the fields and interests of each participant, as being disability leader I was provided an opportunity to visit DC Center of Independent living, The league, and Black Hills workshop. It helped me enhance my experience in the disability field and learn that I ever wished to have first hand learning experience from the leaders of the world in the disability field, refreshing my memories I recall the accessible swimming pool of the league and wheel chair friendly gym that I could not join due to some time reasons. But it encouraged me to resolve to make such swimming pool in Pakistan as well.
There I visited “Group Homes” where four disabled persons live independently provided with an attendant 24 hours to live an independent life, their privacy is ensured and they live in separate rooms. These homes serve best to the people who face broken homes crisis. Many of such institutions are funded directly by the Government and Charity activities are also there.
The D.C Center for IL works like a resource center and providing services and information to the disabled persons. It’s important to mention here that disabled persons are provided with the medical facility, monthly allowance, assistive devices and other daily living facilities by the Government that is the basic right of the disabled and it makes one feel alive. If the disabled feel uncomforted there are NGOs and other human rights protection entities to help them out and facilitate. The disabled are also provided with the job opportunity that makes them a productive part in the national progress.
During my 3 weeks stay in states I observed that there is a huge disabled population is visible in America and they are blessed with all the facilities like their counterparts that lacks here in my own country and we the disabled have to face discriminations and barriers everywhere, we the disabled here are treated as” Children of Lesser God”.
I observed persons with different disabilities including physical visually impaired; Hearing impaired enjoying their lives out in the society using their assistive devices being part of social activities. The reason lies only in accessibility and right based barrier free society for all.
The Visit of U.S states provided me with opportunity to visit historical places and cultural areas that will remain fresh in my mind. It was a wonderful experience to meet cross culture people, speaking different languages, every state there had different culture there, D.C reminded me of Islamabad and New York is like Lahore as its inhabitants were enthusiastic and nights do not sleep there. The public places in America are totally accessible and barrier free. Washrooms are disabled friendly with wheelchair access. Most of the buildings have separate doors for wheel chairs having a big button beside the doors, while pressing this button door opens automatically.
The traffic signals on roads produce a special sound to guide the blind persons. In short it is true to state here that, “America is like a Haven for the disabled persons on earth” . The learning and experiences of my stay in the U.S is no doubt an asset of my life and I will be utilizing this valued knowledge to make my professional and personal life batter.
Written by: Maria Qureshi