In September last year, Pakistan's first visually impaired UN delegate Saima Saleem was praised by the whole nation after she made a speech in the exercise of the right of reply at the 76th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) while reading from Braille.
On the occasion of World Braille Day, which is celebrated worldwide on Jan. 4 annually, Saleem made an announcement that her first book is all set to be published this year, and if she will get a chance, she will definitely try to publish it also in Braille.
Saleem is the first blind civil servant of Pakistan. She came sixth in the 2007 competitive examination and was the first among female candidates taking the test to be recruited in government departments. She became the first blind diplomat of Pakistan for whom rules for recruitment were amended by the government for joining the Foreign Service.
"Braille is a tangible form of written language which is used as a medium of communication by the people who cannot see. In my life as a person, student and now a career diplomat, Braille has played the most significant role," Saleem told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.
Saleem holds a master's degree in international law with a specialization in international humanitarian law and human rights from Geneva Academy, the University of Geneva in Switzerland.
"Working for human rights is my passion, and my book is also written on the topic of gross and systematic human rights violations happening in Indian-occupied Kashmir. It is in the last phase of editing and I will try my best to get that published in Braille as well," she said.
'Barriers should be removed for social integration of people with disabilities'
Saleem believes that people with disabilities can become useful and productive for society if attitudinal and access barriers can be removed for them.
"These barriers can only be removed by creating awareness-raising in which the media can play an instrumental role. Every library should also create a Braille corner like the National Library has done, and try to make the e-books and audio ones available as well."
According to the 2006 national blindness and visual impairment survey in Pakistan, the estimated number of blind individuals of all ages in 2003 was 1.25 million and it projected the figure might have risen to 2.4 million by 2020.
Asad Aslam, a renowned ophthalmologist and former chief executive of Mayo Hospital in Lahore, one of the largest hospitals in Asia, said they carried out the third survey on the issue in Pakistan, which will be released in February to show the exact number of blind people in the country."
Pakistan is a party to the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international human rights treaty of the UN, since 2011 and it is making efforts to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities despite resource constraints.
"Sometimes it takes only one person to stand up for many. I was the first one who demanded the examination board in 1999 to conduct my exam by using Braille and even in 2003, Punjab University on my request had conducted first exams by using Braille, and today, exams in Braille are conducted for blind students all over the country," said Saleem.
Last month, Punjab and Sindh Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces also got their Braille printing press. The project cost 40.3 million Pakistani rupees ($224 million) and thousands of children will be facilitated thanks to it.
On the social responsibility of society, Saleem said: "Learning Braille is important for the person who cannot read and write, but it is equally important for the people in their surroundings to learn these modes of communication so that others can interact with them and persons with disabilities can be given equal opportunity and an inclusive society can be created."