Zahida Qureshi became a victim of disability after she contracted polio. During her school days, she was forced to crawl around on the floor with the support of her hands due to the lack of wheelchairs.
For 12 years, Qureshi travelled to and from school in Pakistan on her brother’s cycle because of no access to wheelchairs or support.
Moreover, she was refused admission to 6 different schools because her crawling around will disturb the other students. She finally felt accepted after she was granted admission to Candle Girls High School, but was unfortunately isolated.
In an interview with the Guardian, Zahida Qureshi shared:
I felt deprived, sitting alone at the desk while my classmates were moving in groups. I was unable to participate in group activities and unable to use the whiteboard. People portray disabled people as useless. For me, this is a kind of harassment.
Despite the obstacles in her life, her father was able to buy a wheelchair when she started college. But, that still came with a lot of complications.
There were no ramps or elevators. It was difficult to reach different classrooms and sometimes missed lectures. After college, my friends and relatives suggested distance learning but I opted for university.
In 2000, she completed a master’s in economics at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan but then had limited job options that were open to differently-abled people.
However, once she became enabled, she decided that no one else should ever go through what she did. Disheartened by the lack of support, laws, and access, in 2007 she founded Society for Special Persons in Multan, an initiative that makes custom wheelchairs for those in need.
Since then, her organization has given away 6,000 wheelchairs and counting for children as well as adults. Qureshi shared that they get about 200 requests a week. They also offer a 6-months training course for special individuals to make their own wheelchairs.
This idea of manufacturing and donating wheelchairs was in my mind for years, she says. When I think of my early life – it resonates with the difficulties and woes of millions of people with disabilities in Pakistan.
Hats off to this amazing woman! We salute you.
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