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5 Ideas to Improve the Lives of People with Disabilities in Africa

20 Feb 2018

According to UN statistics, an estimated 80 million people with a disability live in Africa. Disability in Africa is caused by many factors, including malnutrition, disease, birth defects, poor prenatal care and general health care, civil war and conflict and accidents (primarily road accidents). According to a World Health Organization source, disability is more common among adults who are poor. Given the extra costs of needed equipment and services such as medical care, assistive devices or personal support, people with disabilities are more vulnerable to poverty.

A majority of Africans with disabilities are excluded from schools and opportunities to work, almost guaranteeing that they live as the poorest of the poor. Begging therefore becomes the sole means of survival. The disabled also face social obstacles such as lack of information and access to public transportation, buildings and facilities that are not user-friendly, stigmatization, discrimination and in some cases, torture. For girls and women, rape is an additional concern.

In some African countries, for example Zimbabwe, care for the disabled, once a collaboration between non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as churches, and the government, has largely fallen to the NGOs. The economic decline that began in Zimbabwe in 2000 led to decreased financial support from the government and the corporate world, resulting in many disabled people being displaced and opting for life on the streets. This economic decline and its resulting negative impact on the disabled is not unique to Zimbabwe, as other African countries show a similar trend.

In recent years, additional NGOs and charities have sprung up to further the interests of the disabled. One such NGO is Mainstream Foundation. A community-based NGO in Namibia found in 2010, Mainstream, according to its website, is a “preschool offering an inclusive education to all children” because it believes that to avoid limiting a child, children’s abilities, rather than disabilities, should be the primary focus. Mainstream caters for children with disabilities ensuring that they “have access to appropriate education through which they have the possibility to achieve their personal potential”, and lobbies for the rights of people with disabilities.

Businesses may shy away from hiring disabled workers due to misconceptions about the expense required to accommodate persons with disabilities in the workplace. However, research shows that the actual process of hiring a person with disability is not as complex or costly as some may believe. Most workers with disabilities require no special accommodations and for those who do, the cost is far lower than many employers believe. A study by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the U.S. Department of Labour’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, shows most (59 percent) employers reporting no cost for accommodating employees with disabilities, with 36 percent reporting a one-time cost.

Of those who reported experiencing accommodation cost, be it one-time, recurring or a combination of both, the typical one-time expense was $500 (about R6029). In addition to the wider social capital businesses will generate by having a more diverse workforce, many employers could benefit commercially through a larger talent pool and the
perspective it brings.

Businesses, which may have overlooked certain markets given their lack of knowledge, may discover new opportunities by embracing hitherto ignored communities. There is also the goodwill created by a more positive image and brand, not to mention the reduced risk of a lawsuit.

Across the African continent, some governments are doing very little, if anything, to further the cause of the disabled. However, a number of groups are making progress in lobbying their respective governments to enforce existing legislation aimed at improving the quality of life for the disabled. There is a lot more to be done to overcome many of the barriers faced by people
with disabilities.

Here are 5 ideas:

  1. Increase public awareness, education and understanding about disability in order to reduce prejudices and misconceptions.
  2. Invest in specific programs, such as additional support groups, which provide safe spaces in which people with disabilities can discuss their challenges and receive guidance and support.
  3. Adopt a national strategy designed to integrate the disabled into society, including advocacy at the federal and state level for the implementation and enforcement of job recruitment and selection policies that accommodate people with disabilities.
  4. Implement a periodic review of existing policies, programs and legislation to ensure that these policies are being enforced and that they adhere to the standards set forth by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in its 2030 Agenda.
  5. Include people with disabilities in the creation of programs, such as organizations that oversee the recruitment process and job placement of disabled workers, to ensure that appropriate accommodations are made for people with disabilities and that the process goes as smoothly as possible for both the employer and the employee.

Though South Africa leads all other countries on the continent in ensuring that people with disabilities are represented in the public and private sectors, it still lags behind the rest of the world. However, given the existence of organizations such as the Mainstream Foundation, the future looks bright.



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