How World Disability day changed a fashion designing aspirant to become a rehab therapist

'I was touched and moved by their painful stories. I began thinking of how they would be living their life'

Mir Farhat

Sabreen Shah, a trained rehabilitation therapist today who has rehabilitated hundreds of physically challenged persons in Kashmir, has an interesting story as to why she choose to be a therapist.

Not long ago, Sabreen won a painting competition on World Disability day that was held at University of Kashmir in 2008. She was a graduate then studying Life Science and had planned to become a fashion designer.

Till then, Sabreen had imagined mental and physical agony disabled persons go through in their daily lives. And she had put this imagination, of an old blind man trying to cross a road needing a support and another person who crossed the road without anyone’s help, onto a poster which won her the competition.

At the event in University, the physically disabled children spoke about their daily woes. Sabreen too met some physically disabled children.

“The children and other elderly persons with disabilities narrated their painful stories: Of how each hour of their life is an arduous journey, with every single minute they needing support; how the society looks down upon them. And many other grief-filled stories,” Sabreen, 28, says.

“I was touched and moved by their painful stories. I began thinking of how they would be living their life. I wanted to help them, empathise with them. But I though how could I do?” she says.

The event changed the fashion designer in her. “Soon, I got in contact with Dr. Zaffar Iqbal, Academic Officer Composite Regional Centre at Bemina, Srinagar. Following his suggestions, I enrolled for three years course in Rehabilitation Therapy and also did six-month internship at the same institute,” she says.

Sabreen Shah giving physiotheraphy to a women patient.

Due to the decades of armed conflict in the state, the orthopaedic disabilities are prominent. Natural disasters, road accidents and congenital disorders also contribute to the disabilities.

With a population of over 1.25 crore, Jammu and Kashmir state has, as per census 2011, 361153 persons ( 2.87 percent of the total population) with disabilities which include orthopaedic, mental, hearing, speech, blindness and others.  As per the census, 92,777 persons have speech and hearing disabilities and 68000 blindness.

While the number of disables in Kashmir province including Ladakh stands at 2, 33, 973, Jammu region has 1, 27,180 persons with different disabilities. The male to female ratio of disables in Kashmir is 55.51 to 44.49 and in Jammu it is 58.91to 41.09.

Though government and other stake holders have pitched in through different schemes and support for the welfare of these people, yet Jammu and Kashmir is far from the goal of granting them their rights and uplift them.

Also, these people face social barriers in the state and don’t have an equal rights and status.  Their rights are engrossed only on papers and rhetorical slogans raised during calendar days observed on their name.  These disabled people face tremendous hardships in transportation, employment and education.


At CRC, Sabreen learnt the rehabilitation and physiotherapy courses. From a girl who wanted to fashion people with glamour and trends, she learnt to devote her life for disabled to become a humanitarian.

“I learned that such people do not need therapies and rehabilitation only, but empathy. I learned to become a complete humanitarian. These people need to be given the feeling of belongingness,” she says.

After Sabreen finished her course, she was offered to work at Hope disability Center and Handicap International, the NGOs which coordinate with each other to rehabilitate the persons with disabilities (PwDs) across Jammu and Kashmir, and facilitate their livelihood.  The motto of these NGOs is to help to provide PwDs life of dignity and independence.

“I worked with these two NGOs for a period of two years. Then, I joined Life Help Organization (for disabled children) for another two years. I have attended several seminars, workshops, awareness camps on disability,” she says.

Today, Sabreen is a trained Rehabilitation Therapist and a hope for hundreds of people with disabilities.

“When I see a physically challenged person smile after rehabilitation, I feel contentment within me. And no worldly material can give me such a feeling,” she says.

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About Editor

Mir Farhat is a journalist based in Kashmir. He is one of the founding editors of He reports on politics, governance, human rights, public health and environment.

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