Disability agenda in SA

2014-06-18 00:00

IN response to continued and effective lobbying by the disability movement since the nineties, it seemed that things had begun to change. What began as a trickle of positive statements and disability-targeted interventions over the past few years transformed into an apparent flood of interest in disability mainstreaming and co-operation from the government, non-governmental and private sectors.

Much energy has been spent on attempting to mainstream and decode this mystery that is disability. Among important steps, several key mechanisms were created to integrate disability into society, including employment.

These include:

• the Integrated National Disability Strategy (1997), in conjunction with our very progressive Constitution, forms an in-depth, overarching policy document;

• the Code of Good Practice on Disability (2002), which answered the technical definition of disability offered by the Employment Equity Act (EEA); and

• the Technical Assistance Guide (Tag), (2003), a handbook on reasonable accommodation, etc. which sought to clarify issues touched on by the code.

These policies, codes and guides, together with sophisticated legislation (such as the EEA and Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act), should provide foundations upon which to facilitate the natural and unhesitating integration of disability into society.

In addition, offices of the status of persons with disabilities (OSPDs) were established, followed by the creation of the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (DWCD) in 2009, to facilitate the inclusion of the disability agenda in all government activities.

However, the reality is very different, and is one that is relatively unchanged from the past. Despite the formidable battery of non-discriminatory legislation and policies, disability remains the most disadvantaged of minority groups in South Africa. Very little of practical value has been achieved, either to bring people with disabilities into the mainstream of socioeconomic and government processes, or to improve their lives.

Currently, funding and government support are inadequate and disabled people’s organisations are not given sufficient time to engage with members on extremely complex issues.

It is felt that the disability sector’s involvement is only thought of after the final stages of the policy processes. The province of KwaZulu-Natal, for example, is failing to include disability indicators and performance benchmarks.

Although there is some evidence of inclusion with respect to non-governmental organisations receiving funds from government, disabled people’s organisations’ needs are not considered in development programmes, nor are people with disabilities consulted at any stage.

Also, despite the government and NGOs’ use of the human-rights language and the social model in service delivery, the government and NGOs, even those that are disability specialists, continue responding to disability essentially as a question of welfare and charity. Further, the government has policies and guidelines about disability integration or mainstreaming, which, on the ground, are either unknown or not implemented.

It should be noted that at least on the side of government and society, there is intention to move forward. It is impossible in this article to do justice to the broad spectrum of issues relating to disability mainstreaming.

Having been closely engaged in the disability field for a number of years, the following are some of the messages that stand out for me.

Disability is not about health status; it is about discrimination and systematic exclusion. It must be seen and addressed as a question of fundamental human rights.

Meaningful service delivery, including research, demands that people with disabilities and their organisations take a leading role and not simply be consulted or included.

The government must set an example of good practice by drawing on the experiences and expertise of people with disabilities and related organisations.

The government needs to tackle urgently the problem of policy evaporation which has meant that good policies on mainstreaming disability remain almost entirely trapped on paper.

My hope is that spaces will be created for mainstreaming disability in all aspects of life and will form part of the socioeconomic and political agenda.

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