My name is Mumtaz Ali, I belong to Thui Yasin. My family moved to Gilgit in 1994. I am a 30-year-old male with a visual impairment. My primary and secondary schooling were from Gilgit, and I moved to Islamabad for intermediate. I have a teaching experience of 8.5 years of which five years as the principal. I moved back to Gilgit for my Masters. I am supposed to tell you my story, let us see how it goes, let’s start.
In 1997, when I was in school, I came to know that my vision was going to be a problem; but I did not take it much seriously. After 2006, my vision started to deteriorate. You know it was a depressing time; I felt gloomy, rain would make me sad as my vision blurred, and exams would stress me out. In 2011, a doctor diagnosed that I have “Retinitis pigmentosa” (RP), which means that cells in the retina break down slowly over time, causing gradual vision loss. What took a toll on me is the way that the doctor delivered the news to me. Frankly speaking our doctors are not compassionate enough with patients. After hearing this news, my world crumbled in front of me; all my dreams seemed impossible for me to achieve.
After 2013, I couldn’t read or write and lost my complete vision. When I moved back to Gilgit after diagnosing with RP, I did not let anyone know of my disability because at that time I believed one should hide his or her disability and it is something you should not be proud of. Initially, it was a hard pill to swallow, and I struggled to live with the disability but gradually I accepted it. Now, I go on about things without much help from others. It takes time to accept life altering events, and a lot of courage and guts to accept yourself for who you are. But now, I wear my disability like a crown!!!
Before being diagnosing with RP, I feared people with blindness and had no awareness of persons with disabilities (PWDs). At that time, I did not realize life has stored something the same for me as well.
I have always been passionate about teaching, and I started as a teacher in school and did not let my disability come in the way of my dreams. One thing that I have experienced is, when I lost my vision, my memory as well as my hearing ability improved. Nature takes one thing from you it compensates you in some other way. I tried hard to hide my disability from my family and for quite some time I excelled at it but eventually I had to break it to my family. My family and friends supported me, and I am happy to have such a support system. Anyhow in 2019, I applied for a masters at KIU, initially I did not get into my desirable course but somehow ended up enrolling into my dream course. I graduated with a 3.7 CGPA and secured second position. Currently I am doing master’s in political science as a private student meanwhile, I am also working as Vice President at Gilgit Baltistan’s Goodwill Movement which is a disabled-led organization, a must need for the disabled community.
Living with a disability has made me realize that there are two kinds of people in our society: those who want to help but do not know how to and the other group who only pity or sympathize with PWD’s, which mirrors medical and charity theory of disability which are highly favored by our society.
In Gilgit Baltistan, there is a huge amount of discrimination around PWDs. Accounting my personal experience, a doctor declared me unfit for work due to my disability. Nevertheless, I have an experience of 8.5 years in teaching, which proves that you can defy the odds and make things work in your favor.
Is our society inclusive enough, is our education system accommodating enough? Few things have improved, but a lot of work is still needed to be done to make our society more inclusive of PWDs. One thing I have learned is to fight for your rights because nobody is going to stand up for you. Next thing I would like to point out is support, I request parents and public both to provide a moderate environment to PWDs, do not be overprotective or do not completely neglect them. I have seen abled people getting fake special cards just to enjoy the benefits of PWDs which is ethically and morally wrong.
One thing I wish I had done sooner is to talk about my disability. I wish I had shared the news with my family sooner. My request to PWDs is to not hide your disability, be more vocal about your disability because we need to raise awareness among the public about disabilities and the rights of PWDs. If you see a PWD, do not be a savior and jump to help. Instead, talk to that person first whether he/she needs your help. Do not come to rescue them unless they ask for it. Besides, its basic etiquettes and try to be compassionate with each other because not all disabilities are visible, and you never know what internal demons’ people are fighting.
In the end, I would like to leave all of you with this thought why do we have to go through something intensive to realize the urgency of the issue? Talking about government-level efforts, General Zia passed first disability act in 1981. It is rumored that he passed this bill because he had someone with a disability in his family. Personally, I feel, if we are to excel as a society, we need to include PWDs in every walk of life and our society needs to include PWDs to grow inclusively in a dignified order.