Covid-19 particularly severe for people with disabilities - Ramaphosa

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President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
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  • The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been particularly severe for many persons with disabilities, says President Cyril Ramaphosa.
  • He says government is implementing a number of initiatives to empower people with disabilities.
  • These include promoting sign language as an official language and improving ways to communicate with people with disabilities.

While the coronavirus pandemic has caused great hardship for all South Africans, the impact has been particularly severe for many persons with disabilities, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday.

In his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa said following a meeting of the Presidential Working Group on Disability held virtually last week, a government delegation underlined its priority to mainstream the rights of persons with disabilities across government planning. He said it will ensure that all departments are held to strict targets for inclusion and empowerment.

"We reiterated our commitment to fully implementing the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to meeting our international obligations with regards to advancing the rights of persons with disabilities, notably the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities," Ramaphosa said.

People with disabilities more vulnerable

The restrictions on movement and activity put in place at the onset of the pandemic, together with the pressure put on health facilities, meant that many persons with disabilities found it more difficult to access the healthcare and other support services they needed, he added.

"This time was particularly difficult for those persons with disabilities who rely on family, friends and community members for help with various tasks and activities. Many people, including the elderly, spent weeks and months in relative isolation. Because persons with disabilities are disproportionately more likely to be unemployed or not in education or training, many have been more vulnerable than most to the devastating impact of the disease on lives and livelihoods."

The president said government wanted to ensure that the circumstances of persons with disabilities are fundamentally and permanently improved.

"We must make up lost time and move forward with greater focus and urgency to progressively achieve the equalisation of opportunities for person with disabilities.

"In developing the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, we have emphasised that businesses owned and run by persons with disabilities need to play a significant role in the infrastructure build programme. Persons with disabilities will also be supported to form cooperatives in key sectors such as retail, agriculture, financial services and manufacturing, and, in addition to women and youth, will be prioritised in accessing funding for business initiatives.

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"This needs to take place alongside a concerted effort to increase the proportion of persons with disabilities employed in both government and the private sector."

Sign language to become SA's '12th official language'

Ramaphosa said the private sector had to do more to empower, capacitate, train and employ more persons with disabilities, and to make workplaces more conducive and accommodating.

He said closely linked to the task of economic empowerment is the struggle for inclusive education, which should ensure that children with disabilities are able to access and receive a quality education that is suited to their needs. He added that it is estimated that around half-a-million children with disabilities of school-going age are not in school. Many are in specialised schools and centres, often located far from their families and communities and without proper care or teaching.

"Our goal should be to enable children with disabilities to attend their local schools and ensure that these schools have the resources, personnel and physical infrastructure to accommodate their specific requirements. Among other things, this requires training of educators in inclusive education and challenging attitudes that give rise to discrimination and stigmatisation," he said.

Long way to go

Ramaphosa said another area fundamental to inclusion is communication, adding that persons with disabilities should be able to receive and impart information regardless of the nature of their disability. To this end, government has been promoting the designation of South African sign language as the country's 12th official language, he said.

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The president said government was looking at ways that its information and services can be made accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired, deaf or have psychosocial or intellectual disabilities.

"As a country, we still have a long way to go. But if we are to make progress, we need to start by improving the understanding across society of the ways in which persons with disabilities are excluded and marginalised. We need to tackle discrimination against, and victimisation of, persons with disabilities.

"This must be one of our foremost priorities as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, so that we can truly build back better for all South Africans," Ramaphosa said. 

Read Ramaphosa's full newsletter here
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