Disability occurs when there is an impairment that may affect developmental, cognitive, mental, physical, and emotional state of a person or combination of any of these challenges. Disability may be congenital-occurring from birth or may be acquired-occurring during a person’s lifetime. Over one billion people have been estimated to be living with one disability or the other. Many of these people are usually faced with challenges of societal acceptability. According to South African Human Rights Commission, persons with disabilities constitute 5.1% of the South African population (5 years and above) and are prone to discrimination and abuse. Apart from these vulnerabilities, they also lack access to basic education and adequate health and have low prospect in securing employment. These ill-treatments meted on persons living with disability is partly due to wrong notion and beliefs about their capabilities and causes of their disability. Disability has been identified by the South African Human Rights Commission as one of the cardinal areas that can ensure the realization of Human Rights advocacy in South Africa.
In 2013, 03 Nov – 03 Dec was adopted as Disability Rights Awareness Month, and 03 December as the National Day of Persons with Disabilities. Ever since then, South Africa’s National Disability Rights Awareness Month is being celebrated annually between 3 November and 3 December to coincide with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities which is marked on 3rd December of every year. During the annual International Day of Persons with disability people are expected to among other things: know the issues associated with disability, ensure the rights of people with disability are not infringed upon and to promote the gains derived from Persons with Disabilities. The South African Department of Women, Youth and People with Disabilities is saddled with the responsibilities of ensuring the South African government is doing well in the areas of empowerment of People with Disabilities and also ensures equitable distribution of socio-economic benefits. For proper acceptability and integration of Persons with disabilities in the society, all hands must be on deck; stakeholders must ensure equal treatment and inclusion of all irrespective of any disability.
HOW CAN WE REMOVE BARRIERS AND ENSURE INCLUSIVE SOCIETY FOR PERSON LIVING WITH DISABILITY?
It should be the responsibility of everyone to ensure persons living with disability are included in scheme of things as it pertains to proper integration and involvement in decision making in the society. Some of the best way to remove the barriers and ensure inclusive and accessible society for persons living with disability include:
· Advocacy: There should be continuous and proper advocacy for the right of persons with disability. This task must be the responsibility of every one including stakeholders in the government, private and public sectors. The legislature is also expected to enact laws while the government can formulate polices that can enforce the right and privileges of persons with disability.
· Involvement in government programmes: Persons with disability should be part of every government programme that has to do with policy formulation, restructuring and economic recovery among many other important programmes. Persons with disability must among other things be involved in the conceptualization, development and execution of programmes and policies within the society. Much is being expected from the Ministry of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities as emphasized by president Ramaphosa during the lunch of the ministry in 2019. Part of the president’s speech was for the ministry to design strategies that can influence some of the decisions of the government for the betterment of the lives of women, youth and persons with disabilities.
· Protection of persons living with disability during pandemic: There should be a way of ensuring that persons living with disability did not suffer unduly during pandemic. Workable agreement should exist between government and sponsors/partners that will make life meaningful for people with disability such as the type of agreement that was entered into by the Department of Women, Youth & Persons with Disabilities and some development partners during COVID-19 lockdown. The partnership ensures persons with disabilities do not continue to depend on donations from well-wishers only but with other organization that have the interest of persons with disabilities at heart.
· Public awareness: It is good to know that the National Disability Rights Awareness Month is being celebrated annually in South Africa between 3 November and 3 December. This will ensure that all barriers are removed and also create an opportunity to enhance the quality of life of people with disabilities. Our disposition to people with disabilities is also expected to improve to facilitate their acceptability and integration into the society.
· Integration of Social Inclusion in Schools: There must be change in mind-set concerning Persons with Disabilities and this must begin from elementary schools. For general acceptability and societal integration, social inclusion of Persons with Disabilities needs to be taught at younger age to minimise peer discrimination and also promote social interaction irrespective of the differences occasioned by disability.
· Public acceptance: We must learn to accept and interact with persons with disabilities because they are also humans as we are, with diverse abilities and talents. We should value the quality of life and potentials that exist in persons with disabilities. We as a nation must learn to focus more on their strength and not their challenges in order to boost their morale and also instigate them to be more relevant in their various endeavours.
· Economic engagement: Persons with disabilities should be productively engaged in employment opportunities to boost the state of economy in the country. This is because of their prowess and highly skilled ability which is very significant and in some cases, even better than their non-disabled counterpart. The gap that exists between the unemployed persons with disabilities and non-disable workers is far too wide due to continuous discrimination and denial of interview opportunities. For proper integration of persons with disabilities, measures should be put in place both at the public and private sectors in order to have all inclusive and acceptable society.
· Accessibility to critical areas: Persons with disabilities are sometimes, not always put into consideration when some important structures are being built such as airports, shopping malls, churches and mosques. This has further worsened the integration of Persons with disabilities as they find it difficult in some cases, to even have unhindered access to their homes, offices and other critical areas. For Persons with disabilities to enjoy societal acceptability, there must be strong will by stakeholders to always put Persons with disabilities into their priority.
· Treating Persons with dignity: It is quite unfortunate that Persons with disabilities are, in some instances, treated with disdain. Many people only focus on their attention on the disability but not on the ability of Persons with disabilities. There is a popular saying that “there is ability in disability”. That means there is nothing an able person does that Persons with disabilities can’t do and in some instances, even better. Therefore there is a need to change our disposition towards Persons with disabilities by employing them, involving them in political matters, involving them in critical issues, celebrating the potentials they’ve got and also accepting them the way they are while also benefitting from their wealth of experience and expertise.
In conclusion, proper awareness and advocacy is expected from everyone in the society. This will ensure persons with disabilities do not suffer unduly. It will also be a step in the right direction towards ensuring persons with disabilities are properly integrated into the society.
Dr. Adefemi Obalede is a postdoctoral researcher. He writes in his personal capacity.