Pakistan recently took a mini-step in the right direction by swearing in its “first visually impaired civil judge”. It served as a moment to highlight that all citizens ought to stand equal before the law — regardless of illness and disability. Beyond this fanciful and paradise-like moment, however, the reality is abhorrently shocking for millions of disabled people up and down the country. The appointment of the first visually impaired judge seems like a PR exercise when compared to the difficulties faced by people with long term physical and mental illnesses. While legislative procedures exist on the statutes, their enactment is slow, tedious, and sometimes completely non-existent in various parts of the country. It is a well believed and common fact that education makes individuals independent, self-sufficient and prepares them for prospective challenges. “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today,” said Malcom X. It is thus a depressing fact that disabled children are being denied this passport to the future. They are being denied the opportunity to prepare for a tomorrow. Primary school completion rates, for example, are only 27percent for people with disabilities as opposed to 42 percent for people without disabilities, according to a World Bank study of persons in employment. In other words, 73percent of children with disabilities are not able to complete their primary education, a phase where children learn some of the most fundamental and pivotal skills for life. A number of reasons have been cited for the aforementioned low participation rate in school life. Students with disabilities are isolated and excluded from mainstream education; they are instead placed in special schools which are exclusively catering for people with disabilities. Although this may seem like a plausible practice on the surface, it in fact entails a number of disadvantages and inefficiencies. The appointment of the first visually impaired judge seems like a PR exercise when compared to the difficulties faced by people with long term physical and mental illnesses Firstly, this strategy is incredibly expensive. Separate schools are “costly from a public budget standpoint”, according to The Economist’s 2014 report, titled, moving from the margins: mainstreaming persons with disabilities in Pakistan. Funding separate schools can thus move down the list of priorities for federal and provincial governments in a country with widespread infrastructural issues and a huge state debt. Moreover this report states that this separationist policy also keeps disabled “children excluded from the rest of society”. This has a number of dire implications later on in life for people with disabilities — and without. With regards to students with disabilities, separate schools create this protected environment which means that they are ill-equipped for later challenges in life once they enter mixed environments like the workplace. And, people without disabilities demonstrate a lack of awareness and do not know much about the struggles of people with disabilities, which can lead to ignorance, prejudice and eventually to discrimination. The opportunity to participate in academic life is significantly worse for students with disabilities who reside in rural areas. While Punjab’s special education provision is to be applauded, it nonetheless primarily benefit those students who live in the main towns of the sub-districts. These schools however, are only located in towns and cities, which tend to be expensive places to live. Poor and inadequate provision in early stages of life suggests that it is no wonder that the employment prospects of people with disabilities are also dismal. “Many would agree that the proportion of persons with disabilities; employed is significantly lower”, claims The Economist’s report, which was formulated for the British Council. This highlights the fact that exclusion from early years’ education has a drastic effect on people’s employment prospects. Justice Yousaf Saleem’s appointment as a civil judge should therefore be the beginning of an era that provides equal opportunities, and not just the cherry on top of the cake. It is therefore crucial that the next government — at federal and provincial levels — must make this area of policy a priority because adequate academic and employment opportunities will ensure that every man and woman can lead an independent and fulfilling life, regardless of their disabilities. The writer is the author of Diary of a Foreigner: Thoughts on Brexit. He Tweets at @muhammedRaza786. Email: muhammedHussain1998@Gmail.com Published in Daily Times, August 15th 2018.