An Advocate of Inclusive Development
From teaching sign language to students at the Sir Syed College for Special Children in 2008 to leading the National Forum for Women with Disabilities (NFWWD) as an Executive Director in 2013, Nagina Tahir’s journey is one of strength, resilience, and passion.
Born Deaf, Tahir received her education from the Sir Syed College for Special Children, Rawalpindi, in Fine Arts. In 2013, after receiving her certification in attendant-ship, she started to work as an attendant, and later as a Sign Language Specialist with Special Talent Exchange Program (STEP). It was here that she had the opportunity to travel to the U.S. as a participant of the Disability Exchange Program.
Tahir was placed in Eugene, Oregon for a six-week intensive leadership program that helped her understand disability equality and inclusive development from a different lens. For her, this exchange signified a stepping stone for it opened her up to a different reality for persons with disabilities – one that was not marked by indifference and social isolation. “When I went to the U.S. I saw a different reality for persons with disabilities; there was accessibility provided for them at every step,” she says.
She saw busses that were wheelchair accessible, learned about the Fitness for All program that engaged persons with disabilities in exercises at the gym and on the basketball court. What Tahir found to be the most welcoming difference was the presence of a sign language interpreter at all events and meetings.
Connecting through Sign Language
“Because of the presence of a sign language interpreter, I never felt left out at meetings on my exchange program. I participated more actively and voiced my ideas and thoughts,” says Tahir. Interestingly, Tahir learned the American Sign Language (ASL) during her exchange program. “The sign language we learn in Pakistan is quite different from ASL, but this helped me develop another skill that has helped me incredibly in my sessions through the NFWWD.”
She vividly recalls the inclusive environment she experienced as a Deaf person. She enjoyed watching horror movies that were without any dialogues and saw Deaf persons work in a cinema that was accessible for persons with disabilities. One incident really intrigued her and it was meeting a dentist who was deaf. “Seeing a doctor treat patients using sign language was a promising sight! It further strengthened my resolve to continue teaching and advocating for sign language back home,” says Tahir.
While she connected with women from all around the world through sign language on her exchange, she also overcame one of her biggest fear of dogs. “Our host family had a dog in the house and initially I closed my eyes while going inside because I had always been very scared of dogs. But later, I enjoyed how the dog would sit and watch me talk in sign language with others! We eventually ended up becoming very good friends!”
Leading from the Front
Since her return to Pakistan, Tahir continues to play an active role in breaking barriers and promoting inclusion for persons with all kinds of disabilities. As the Executive Director of NFWWD, she actively leads seminars on disability equality, peer counseling, and gender-sensitive inclusive development. She advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities on all forums and believes that creating widespread awareness is critical to behavioral change in the society. She strongly feels the general behavior towards people with learning disabilities is discriminatory and this is one reason why she regularly holds art classes at her alma mater with students facing learning disabilities.
She has spoken to persons with disabilities in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the U.S. She also teaches sign language to people around the word through video conferencing. As a matter of fact, Tahir has taught sign language to everyone in her community and therefore, broken a huge barrier to communication.
We asked her what does the future look like for Nagina Tahir?
She says, “I will work for people with all kinds of disabilities while staying in Pakistan and show them that they can – and they should – pursue professional careers. There is absolutely nothing that is coming in our way.”