Blind youth: Must we vandalise property before government takes us seriously?

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There is nothing to celebrate, even though it's disability month, say blind youth.
There is nothing to celebrate, even though it's disability month, say blind youth.

The SA Blind Youth Organisation (Sabyo) says it has nothing to celebrate this month.

November is officially known as National Disability Rights Awareness Month, but Sabyo has decided to boycott this commemoration, claiming its demands for better services have been ignored.

Five months ago, the organisation took to the streets in protest and addressed its grievances with the department of social development and the office of the presidency – to no avail, it claims.

Included among the organisation’s demands was for government to hand out canes to all blind or partially sighted people free of charge, and for all hospitals to ensure that the packaging and labelling of their medications were easy to interpret.

They also asked that the disability portfolio in government be handled independently – “not as a by-the-way, as has been the case up to now”, said Sabyo member Thabo Thema.

“We as blind people are still marginalised, disempowered and not respected, protected and dignified in accordance with section 9 of the Constitution.”

The department of women, children and people with disabilities is responsible for driving the government’s equality and empowerment agenda when it comes to those living with disabilities.

“It is 24 years into democracy and we feel that we are still marginalised and without dignity, respect or protection in this country,” reiterated Thema.

“In June, after not being heard through the structures meant to help us, we protested at the office of the presidency. We even sought help from other political parties, but nothing came of it.”

Thema said the protesters had been sent from pillar to post since that march in June.

“On the day we protested, the office of the president received our memorandum, but then a ... back and forth situation started happening between the presidency and the social development ministry.”

Thema said the challenges that blind and visually impaired people faced ranged from being denied access to free, quality education “accommodative of our reality in all levels of schooling” to being denied “economic participation and employment, sports and recreation facilities, transportation, road safety measures, housing and infrastructure”.

“We need spacious and quality homes, social integration and easy access to justice. The last includes training police officers to handle people with disabilities with respect. We also demand political rights, such as access to ballot papers that allow us to vote in secret.”

He warned that Sabyo members might opt for violent means of protest.

“It seems that in South Africa, when you follow the law nobody takes you seriously. Do they want us to vandalise properties before they can take us seriously?”

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