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The Question of Deaf Rights in Pakistan

The Question of Deaf Rights in Pakistan

According to a WHO report, approximately 7.40% of the disabled population in Pakistan is deaf

Prof Dr. Abdullah G Arijo

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the need for inclusivity in media, particularly for individuals with hearing impairments. The provision of sign language interpretation in news broadcasts is a critical step toward ensuring that the deaf community has equal access to information. This article examines the state of affairs regarding sign language interpretation on Pakistani TV channels and compares it with global practices.

Pakistan, with a population of 235.8 million (2022) million, ranks seventh among the world’s most populous countries. However, when it comes to literacy, as of September 2023, Pakistan’s literacy rate is 59.3%, which is lower than the 62.8% as reported in the 2022-23 Economic Survey. However, the literacy rate has improved in all provinces, including Punjab: 66.1% to 66.3%, Sindh: 61.1% to 61.8%, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: 52.4% to 55.1% Balochistan: 53.9% to 54.5%. The literacy is higher in urban areas (72%) than in rural areas (45%) and more in men (67%) compared to women (42%).

Pakistan stands at 160th globally for lowest allocations to education sector. The country allocates only 2.5% of its annual Gross National Product (GNP) to education and training, a figure significantly lower than countries like Malaysia, Thailand, and India. Within this context, the issue of deafness remains a critical challenge. Approximately 7.40% of the disabled population in Pakistan is deaf, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the Borgen Project, there are around 10 million people in Pakistan who are deaf, and some estimates put the number at nearly 9 million. A survey by the Ministry of National Health Sciences Regulations and Coordination found that 4.8% of the country’s population has a hearing disability. About 14.5 million people in Pakistan have hearing loss, and half of these cases may be due to genetics.

The Deaf Reach Program was established in Pakistan in 1998 to meet the tremendous need for Deaf Education in the country. From its early beginnings as a club for the deaf, today it is a growing network of seven schools, training centers, and colleges, however, there is a dire need to develop a strong network of deaf schools.

3116196-18707312The history of special education in Pakistan is relatively recent. At the time of independence, only three schools catered to children with special needs. The first school, established in 1906, focused on educating children with visual impairments. In 1920, the second school opened its doors to deaf children in Karachi. Parents of deaf children formed the Deaf and Dumb Welfare Society, which also established a school called Gung Mahal (Palace of Deaf). Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) began actively participating in the education and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities. Following independence, in 1959, the United Nations Organization (UN) declared the decade between 1983 and 1992 as the decade of disabled persons.

Challenges Faced by the Deaf Community include education disparities. Less than 5% of deaf children, especially girls, attend school in Pakistan. This lack of access to education contributes to widespread illiteracy and high unemployment rates among deaf youth.

Pakistani society often lacks awareness and understanding of deafness. Negative perceptions and misconceptions about deaf individuals persist, affecting their social and emotional adjustment.

Outside large cities, facilities for the deaf are scarce. Electronic media rarely provides accessible content, leaving deaf individuals isolated and underserved.

Solutions and Recommendations

  1. Inclusive Education: Promote inclusive education by integrating deaf students into mainstream schools. Provide sign language interpreters and adapt teaching methods to accommodate diverse learning needs.
  2. Teacher Training: Train educators to work effectively with deaf students. This includes understanding sign language, using visual aids, and fostering a supportive classroom environment.
  3. Accessible Media: Encourage electronic media to provide closed captions, sign language interpretation, and accessible content. Raise awareness about the importance of inclusion.
  4. Community Support: Establish community centers where deaf individuals can access resources, receive vocational training, and connect with peers.
  5. Advocacy and Awareness: Advocate for the rights of the deaf community. Raise awareness about their needs, challenges, and contributions.


To overcome the obstacles encountered by the deaf community in Pakistan, the government, non-governmental organizations, educators, and society as a whole must work together. By ensuring that deaf people have access to education, raising awareness, and promoting inclusion, we can enable them to lead satisfying lives and contribute to the nation’s advancement.

5-Organizations-Helping-the-Deaf-Community-in-Pakistan-Pakistan has made significant strides in making news broadcasts accessible to the deaf community. However, virtually all private channels have zero facilities.

Federal government has approved the Access to the Media (Deaf) Persons Act, 2022, mandating all broadcasters to air news bulletins with sign language interpretation. This commendable initiative will enhance accessibility for the hearing impaired, extending to include dramas, films, and other picture programs after one year of implementation.

Sign language inclusion in news broadcasts varies across the world. Pakistan has established regulations while other countries are recognizing its importance. The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs advocates for digital accessibility. Global Accessibility Awareness Day highlights the need for virtual access for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Pakistan’s media accessibility efforts are a mixed picture compared to global practices. While some developed nations have implemented sign language interpretation in media, many countries haven’t. Recent legislation puts Pakistan at the forefront among developing countries, but actual implementation and quality of interpretation services will determine success.

Pakistan’s initiative to provide sign language interpretation for news broadcasts is a significant step towards inclusivity and aligns with global efforts to recognize the needs of individuals with hearing impairments. As the world moves towards greater digital accessibility, it’s essential to ensure that no one is left behind in the information age. Pakistan’s recent legislation could inspire similar actions worldwide if successfully implemented.


Abdullah ArijoProf. (R) Dr. Abdullah G. Arijo is Advisor and Visiting Professor, SBBUVAS, Sakrand, Pakistan. He is Ex-Chairman, Department of Parasitology, Sindh Agriculture University and Ex-Advisor Academics & P&D to Vice Chancellor SAU Tandojam

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