Background to Challenges
Disability is viewed different by different people based on their socio economic positions. For as Africans, disability is viewed as spiritual a curse despite medical explanations proffered.
For the West disability is a natural phenomenon that is explained by medical theories taking for example the Polio outbreak that affected many children in the late 1950s and the 1960’s.Such different perceptions from people therefore attract different interventions from the Government. The challenges that disabled persons suffer range from physical (structural), emotional, economic, and psychological, education, culture and health/medical .The complexity of disability is that it is associated with poverty.
Disabled persons faces a myriad of economic challenges. Mostly they arise out of the discrimination that they face at family, institutional and central government level. They are less or not educated at all.Thier level of participation in the economic arena is thus limited. They are unlikely to be accorded equal access to programs that empower the general populace.
Due to these economic reasons their medical needs cannot be adequately catered for. They cannot even afford to acquire special appliances to aid them whether they are crutches, wheel chairs, hearing aids, braille, and artificial limbs e.t.c.The lack of resources creates a circle of poverty to the disabled as they least afford to send their own children to school. This means even at their old age where they cannot even do the menial jobs of vending, they do not have children who can assist them financially since the children will also be struggling financially.
The disabled have difficulties in accessing various facilities. They cannot easily maneuver due to the discriminatory manner buildings were built. Even where some buildings have provisions for wheel chairs, disabled persons may require additional assistance to maneuver. They also suffer challenges when using public transport which is the most affordable transport for them. Some operators shun the disabled as they do not cater for the space to accommodate the wheelchair even where it is foldable. The way the vehicles are designed also make it difficult for the disabled to board the vehicles.
Use of modern and rural toilets (Blair) is also a challenge. Some disabled are unable to sit comfortably and some have to be escorted to the toilet or some have to feel the dirty toilet pans through touching to ensure they are in the right place.
The unavailability of the appliances e.g. wheel chairs and artificial limbs result in some disabled having to crawl or being carried on the back in order for them to be move from one place to another.
Disable persons cannot successfully participate in sporting activities effectively. Their talents are never realized because there is little opportunities to participate at all levels. Those who may have been luckily identified will have to access special appliances or facilities in order to participate. Most of the appliances come dear and facilities expensive to maintain. Considering their poor economic status it becomes a pipe dream.
Disabled persons also suffer from socio/ emotional and psychological challenges due to the way society view the disabled. People usually pass comments and remarks that are insensitive. Generally people even use derogatory words when referring to the disabled persons e.g. Chirema-disabled. Sometimes they are not even counted as humans and are referred to as disabled-chirema. It is for this reason the word disabled is being substituted with physically or mentally challenged. These societal attitudes are found at all levels from family, Government level and international level. For instance the 2016 Para Olympics had difficulties in finding sponsors for the tournament yet the tournament for the able bodied had no difficulties in being sponsored.
Even when disabled decide to enter into marriages it affects them as they are stigmatized. Superstitious beliefs frown at marriages between an able bodies and a disabled person. It is regarded as a bad omen by the family of the able bodied person. Able bodied persons are not so keen to marry the physically challenged. Even when the disabled person find a partner he/she may not accepted.
Beside the traditional beliefs that disabled persons could have committed abominable sins, some healing and deliverance churches have joined the band wagon, added to the psychological. They cast aspersions towards the disabled and view disabled as lacking in faith when they are not healed after being prayed for.
This shows how difficult it is for disabled to integrate with the rest of the society.
The disabled persons lack equal opportunities to attain education. This is due to discriminatory practices that have always looked down the disabled. The abled bodied children are given first priority to attain education. For the disabled even if there are opportunities to attend school most schools may not be accessible or far away. The majority of the disabled persons also require special schools who are very few and cannot accommodate even those disabled who can afford due to geographical challenges.
The disabled have little access to sexual and reproductive education and general health information. They usually lack family planning knowledge and access. As a result they have many children compounding their financial challenges to look after the children. Access to health care facilities is also a challenge. Some clinics are far away and some are not affordable. The HIV and AIDS scourge has adversely affected the disabled as they have been excluded in special education on the disease as far as prevention, management and treatment. There are no readily available material in braille for the blind. Some disabled are physically and sexually abused. By the time the abuse is discovered it will be too late to get proper and correct treatment.
Cultural /traditional practices and beliefs have also played a big role in making the life of the disabled a nightmare. Despite being shunned the disabled may be killed at infant level as they are regarded as a bad omen. Partners who bear disabled children have separated or divorced because of such births. Either the husband divorce the wife or the woman abandons home leaving the child with the father. The Albinos are being killed for ritual purposes in Tanzania for ritual purposes.
Need for Government Intervention
The Government has enacted various laws to address disability in order to mitigate the challenges that the disabled face. The Disabled Persons Act, the Mental Health Act are some of the legislature. The Ministry of Public Service .Labour and Social Services also cater for the disabled in the department of Social Services. The disabled are provided with small grants and foodstuffs. However these benefits are not accessible to the majority of the disabled. For the few who are lucky to benefit they face a challenge on how to transport their benefits. The venues where the foodstuffs are collected are usually far away from their homes both in the rural and urban. One has to find money to transport the goods usually bags of maize which will require griding.The Government has also acceded to International Conventions which deals with disability. Labour laws and enactments e.g. the Labour Act have also outlawed discrimination towards the disabled. The Government has also set aside a Parliamentary seat for the disabled. We also have a Disability Advisor. National Social Security Authority also caters for disabilities arising at the workplace.
There is need for educational awareness via different forms whether print and electronic media so that the society treat the disabled as normal human beings. Such education should change the mindset of people. Such education should be geared towards the general populace so that the cultural and traditional beliefs do not adversely affect the disabled.
In order to address the physical challenges that the disabled endure the Government has to erect ramps to enable accessibility. It should also procure various appliances to enable mobility and improve visual and hearing impairment. All buildings that are to be constructed should be built in mind of the disabled. The Government should also introduce additional subsidies on goods and services required by the disabled. Health access to be affordable and free in some instances. The Government currently through Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) extend a duty free facility for the disabled to import vehicles. However this facility has its own limitations in that only automatic vehicles are covered. This means that where a disabled wants to bring a commercial vehicle to improve themselves economically e.g. a Truck/lorry, mini bus the duty free facility is not open. The vehicle should be for their personal usage. Also the benefit is only extended after every 5 years.
Distribution of foodstuffs and the grants should be decentralized to even ward level so that they becomes accessible. The allocations of foodstuffs need to be increased and widened to cover most basic needs. The financial grant also need to be increased.
Free psychological counselling facilities need to be opened up at various centers in both urban and rural setting. This will bring confidence and the will to live to the disabled. More special schools at both rural and urban need to be constructed so that the disabled have a fair chance of accessing education.
Disabled persons faces economic deprivation. Due to their disability status they cannot compete equally with able bodied persons in the income generating activities. The majority of these were not even afforded equal opportunities to pursue education. The society has looked down on the disabled Thereby they are absent in the formal employment sector. For those who fortunate enough to acquire some education the usually do not advance in higher positions due to discrimination against the disabled.