Dis­abil­ity is not in­abil­ity

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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.

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