Disability is only a state of mind, they say. The music legend Beethoven was completely deaf by the time he died but he gave the world some of the most beautiful music it has ever known. Deepa Malik, a 38-year-old paraplegic from India, is an international swimmer, a biker and car rallyist and an outstanding athlete. Naqi Haider Rizvi from Pakistan, visually impaired since the age of 7, graduated at the top of his batch in Industrial Engineering. These are, however, stories that stand out because they are so rare!
The prevalence of disability in Pakistan, mental or physical, is estimated at 2.54% of the total population, or over 5 million people. Of which, only 14 per cent of persons with disabilities were in work, the rest, 86%, rely on family members for financial support. (HRCP Annual Report 2015). While this also results in a negative impact on the economy, there is an even bigger impact on the lives of those facing the disability as well as the family members who they are not able to financially support.
Other than the lack of employment opportunities, this section of society also experiences lack of exposure to the few opportunities that are available. In light of this, INJAZ Pakistan (an Aman Foundation initiative) and Kaymu.pk (the online buying and selling platform of Rocket Internet) conducted an Entrepreneurship Master Class info-session at DEWA (Deaf Education Welfare Academy) – a school for the hearing impaired, to educate the students about ecommerce and inform them about the entrepreneurship opportunities that the internet offers to all. With support from the interpreter, they informed the students that from clothes to food to hailing a cab to finding property, there are people offering everything online via websites and apps.
Sharing the stories of Daniyal Admaney, their youngest seller, and Imran Rajput, they encouraged the students to also use their skill and efforts lucratively and told them about the avenues they can utilize. Imran, who was introduced as a Superstar by the Kaymu team, experiences physical disability (limb movement + walking challenges). With 7 more mouths to feed and unable to continue his dentist profession following a road accident 8 years ago, Imran finally resorted to selling online earlier this year, as soon as he learnt about such a website. 4 months and a motorcycle (with extra wheels!) later, Imran enrolled his youngest 2 children in school and runs a successful online store.
Akhuwat foundation employs transgenders for their clothes bank; valet services hire the hearing impaired; and call centres often have visually impaired representatives. It is very encouraging, however, that e-commerce offers the differently-abled to also become entrepreneurs, running online businesses: selling products or offering freelance services.
With emails, SMSs and Whatsapp becoming key modes of communication, the hearing/ speaking impaired can also partake in and benefit from e-commerce. Truly, e-commerce is for all! It is very important, however, to reach out to relevant organizations and also impart this knowledge to them and their members/ students as the differently abled have limited exposure, especially if their/ their institutions main focus is to ensure they learn a skill and excel at it. The team also informed the students they can use the internet to look for jobs, telling them about websites like rozee.pk.
NOWPDP (Network of Organizations Working with Persons with Disabilities in Pakistan) and Karachi Vocational Training Centre (KVTC), among others, are working towards financial sustainability for the physically and mentally impaired. Along with seeking employment opportunities for them, they also enable their students to make products and run their own online stores.
People with disabilities do not have to be handicapped. E-commerce offers a great avenue to promote inclusion and accessibility for the equal participation of persons with disabilities and it is imperative that we work towards empowering all segments of society, if we wish to evolve into a economically sustainable and financially inclusive society.