Disability is not inability
ONE early Thursday morning, as I took my customary jog passing our Lady of Victory Cathedral, I noticed hordes of physically, mentally and otherwise challenged people who are usually described as disabled people for lack of a better term.
The date was actually 3 December 2015, a day that is commemorated for these vulnerable and marginalized members of our society. As I pounded the nearby tarmac with heavy footsteps, I then solemnly recited the following Biblical quotation with a deep sense of self-introspection.
It is from Micah 7:7-9 and reads: “But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light …. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness”.
As I went on, it dawned again on me, as it has in recent years, that these people actually play a very significant role in the socioeconomic development of our nation.
The universal definition of disability is that it is a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses or activities. Here are some chilling statistics on disability.
One billion people worldwide, that is one in every seven people in the world, are disabled. Eighty percent of them live in the developing world. Disabled people living in poverty are the most vulnerable, marginalized and discriminated people on the planet. Often, they have no access to human rights, education and the opportunity to earn a living.
According to Action on Disability and Development (ADD), a United Kingdom-based international development agency fighting for the independence, equality and opportunity for disabled people living in poverty in Africa and Asia, disabled people encounter many injustices. Violence: Disabled people are disproportionately vulnerable to all forms of abuse, with children and women particularly affected. Discrimination: Disabled people face stigma and discrimination in their families and communities, mostly because of misconceptions about disability.
Exclusion: Disabled people often live in isolation and are excluded from their communities, from the education system, from health care and other vital services. Sometimes they are even hidden away from their families.
In Lesotho, we need to collec- tively promote the cause of disabled people so they can fully take part in the development of our nation. Thankfully, we have at the helm of the cause of this noble calling Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso. We have to take cognizance of the realty that these people have ability as well and sometimes even more than able bodied people.
In addition to section 18 of the Lesotho Constitution that prohibits discrimination among others, on the basis of his status or disability, section 33 of the same legislation provides that: “With a view to ensuring the rehabilitation, training and social resettlement of disabled persons, Lesotho shall adopt policies designed to —
a) Provide for training facilities, including specialized institutions, private or private; and
b) Place disabled persons in employment and encourage employers to admit disabled persons to employment.”
These provisions show clearly that Lesotho has the legislative and institutional framework for the promotion and protection of the rights and equal participation in the economic development of our nation.
However, what is of crucial importance for our nation is whether these frameworks are not merely pious, and have not yet been achieved. It is therefore appropriate at this juncture to highlight a few areas in which the disabled in Lesotho are still marginalized and discriminated against.
Disabled people often have no access to basic human rights in that they are excluded from basic services such as healthcare and education, are denied security, dignity and equal treatment before the law. Disabled people often still face discrimination and marginalization in the family, community and wider society.
In the education sector, the proportion of disabled children who are out of school is much larger. Research by Add-international demonstrates that this scenario obtains everywhere in the world but that the scenario is more acute in countries with extreme poverty and this is more acute in girls with disabilities.
In Lesotho for instance, the use of reading materials such as Braille kits in most institutions, libraries and schools are mostly non-exis- tent for visually-impaired persons.
Further, in Lesotho, public buildings such as most of the courts, government ministries, banks and schools do not have ramps.
In its research, Add-international also revealed that, like in Lesotho, disabled people need to overcome huge social and physical barriers which prevent them from earning a living. These people need to be provided with the tools and the resources they need to earn a living such as micro-loans, skills training and business start-up money.
Access to these facilities by disabled people can make them capable to contribute to their families and the local economy and therefore eradicate negative attitudes perceived by their communities towards disabled people.
In regard to access to the media, particularly state media, including both television and radio, there is still to this day, no sign language interpreter provided so that viewers who are hard of hearing can follow programs on the medium.
Fortunately, Lesotho is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which contains an obligation to “closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations in the development and implementation of legislation and policies to implement the present convention and in other decision-making processes concerning issues relating to persons with disabilities”, according to Article 4.3.
The Convention also notes that there are three key principles of disability-inclusive development namely, participation, non-discrimination and accessibility.
Firstly, participation of disabled people in particular, is essential to ensure the relevance and sustainability of any development activity.
The active development of people with disabilities is particularly important to overcome their isolation and invisibility.
Overcoming barriers, especially social barriers, is only possible if there is a proactive effort to include people with disabilities. This requires positive action and the implementation of reasonable accommodation.
Secondly, non-discrimination is the key concept of the CRPD, which it aims to eliminate. Discrimination may be either direct in that it entails treating a person less favourably than another in a comparable situation. It may also be indirect in that it occurs when something that is apparently “neutral” results in a particular disadvantage for people with disabilities in that it is not accessible to people with disabilities.
Thirdly, an essential implication of non-discrimination is to systematically consider accessibility issues. Accessibility must enable persons with disabilities to live independently, and participate fully in all aspects of life.
In this regard, the CRDP requires State Parties to take “appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on our equal basis with others, to the physical environment, including information and communications technologies and systems and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and rural areas”.
In addition, inclusive development implies that the needs of the majority are taken into consideration for example, by applying the principle of Universal Design and that of reasonable accommodation, in that necessary adjustments be made to enable individuals to participate on an equal basis with the others.
Experience has shown that small adjustments can do much to enhance the participation of people with disabilities such as the decisions that classrooms, and other services are organized, (particularly where funds are not permitting), so that pupils and people with disabilities are located on the ground floor of the school or facility. In addition all (public) buildings should be designed with designed with ramps or altered to ensure accessibility to people with limited mobility.
Incidentally, I was at a marriage ceremony in a village not far from the major town in the district, when I witnessed a sad spectacle that will remain forever etched in my conscience.
There was this man who was moving with the rest of us from distant places using his bare hands as feet because he had no legs and rolling on his buttocks to move from different places.
My heart bled for him because there are probably thousands out there like him yet the ignorant villagers seemed not to care a dime about him. I undertook to approach the responsible authority about it.
These barriers call upon all of us, not only government to be removed to enable the disabled to access development and services.
Government should mainstream disability by allocating a small percentage, in addition to the Social Development department, to removing these barriers in the same way that it has dedicated a certain amount alleviating the challenges of people with HIV/AIDS.
All the major towns should have schools dedicated to equipping with life skills and educating people with disabilities. Disability organizations and government should be funded to locate people with disabilities in our villages and cities as sadly some communities stigmatize them.
In addition a concerted effort through the media should be redoubled in the media and by the relevant authorities to disseminate the message that disability is neither a handicap nor a source for stigmatization.
In all public services and buildings, preferential treatment should accorded to people with disabilities. In the same manner, all government ministries and parastatals should make a national policy to give preferential treatment in employment opportunities, so that they can be put on an equal footing if not on a better one, with other members of society.
In conclusion, we should all ensure that in pursuing inclusive development, all marginalized and excluded groups are stakeholders in development activities. Groups should not be excluded from development on the basis of disability.
The effects of such exclusion are rising levels of inequality around the world. Development as the United Nations Development Program correctly observes, cannot effectively reduce poverty unless all groups contribute to the creation of opportunities, share the benefits of development and participate in decision-making.
The goal of inclusive development is to achieve an inclusive society, able to accommodate differences and to value diversity.