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30 Oct 2018


“One day I would love to live in a non-ableist world where I’m not treated as dis-human and where my disabled body does not cause people to squirm and feel uncomfortable. Where I do not become the object of people’s piercing glares any time I move or go anywhere. Where people don’t feel afraid to talk to me or just ignore me through fear of causing offence (I’m seriously not made of glass!). Trust me, although I have a body, which does not match so called societal norms, it does not mean that I’m unhappy. It also doesn’t mean that because I don’t see my body being ‘healed’ in this life time that I have given up on life. I am also human and have feelings and goals too!!

The words of Dr Paul Chappell, Wits-based activist for the rights of persons with disability. It reflects but one aspect of the experience of differently abled people in South African society. Disability should not be understood as referring to a person’s difference or impairment. Disability rather refers to the life experience of that person, living in a society that is organised in a way that restricts their life choices and opportunities.

The most effective way to ensure society becomes better at supporting the life of individuals of all varieties of ability is for those who are themselves differently abled to become civically empowered. And such power is meaningful only when it has collective agency.

In early 2017, Afrika Tikkun Empowerment Programme and Beit Issie Shapiro started to collaborate with a view to organising advocacy on the rights of persons with disability at a national level. The second annual Disability Rights Symposium South Africa taking place on the 15th of March 2018 is the flagship event in the yearly calendar for organising representation of the rights of persons with disability.

In the first year the Symposium was convened, activists and parents of children with disability from around the country congregated to initiate the kind of partnership that can make effective representation to state-level duty bearers. In 2018, the Symposium will continue the work it began in sharing the advocacy work engaged in over the past year; it will generate dialogue about empowerment methodologies and showcase the usefulness of transformative collaboration and partnerships between children with disabilities and their families and those with influence – including actors in multiple state departments, as well as the disability sector and the social justice sector.

The Symposium will bring together disability rights advocates, with a panel of human rights experts, led by Prof Michael Stein. Prof Michael Stein works with disabled people’s organisations around the world, actively consults with governments on their disability laws and policies, advises a number of UN bodies and national human rights institutions, and has participated in landmark litigation.

The theme for the 2018 Symposium is influenced by Global partnerships, as described in Sustainable Development Goal 17. Accordingly, the symposium will be focussing on the topic – Empowerment through Partnerships: Working together towards the effective implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in South Africa.


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