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The President consults the Presidential Working Group on Disability to progress the rights of Persons with Disabilities in South Africa

16 April 2019

26 February 2019 -The Disability sector is full of hope and expectation after its first meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa. The Presidential Working Group on Disability (PWGD) is constituted of 45 members from the disability sector – representing a diverse and allinclusive voice. Prior to this event, it had only met once since its inception in 2016. The mandate of the PWGD is to advise the President and his ministry on strategic, focused programmes that enhance the development of persons with disability to ensure their equal citizenship. Its members had despaired that it was an ineffective, defunct agency that existed on paper only until the call by President Ramaphosa to meet. This, after a SONA in which persons with disability were not mentioned, and which resulted in a vociferous response from the disability sector. The PWGD members were pleased by the quick response by the President.

The PWGD caucused before the scheduled meeting and compiled five key issues for submission. There were:

The relocation of Persons with Disability from the Department of Social Development to the Office of the President. There was strong consensus by all Disability stakeholders that the sector should be afforded focused attention by all departments and levels of government in an integrated and coherent fashion. This repositioning would serve to advance the realization of the rights of persons with disability and replace the current dehumanising “welfare status” and the historical link to the medical model of disability through its current location in the Department of Social Development, with a human-rights based approach.

The adoption of South African Sign Language as the 12th official language of South Africa.

The fast-tracking of the domestication and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and all other regulations and policies relating to persons with disability. Whilst there was an acknowledgement that the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disability is a guiding document for the mainstreaming of disability, it has not been legislated and therefore there exists no enforceable legislation that specifically protects the rights (and dignity) of persons with disability in South Africa

The need for focused attention on the provision of quality education and economic empowerment. There was a call for the professional development of all educators around the issue of disability (in the context of diversity and inclusion), the development of an inclusive and accessible curriculum, and that persons with disability have full access to information and a means of communication , either through alternative formats or assistive technology e.g. braille, alternative augmented communication, captions/subtitles on tv channels, audio descriptions and alternative reading methods. The building of inclusive ECD Centres and the immediate prioritization of ‘out-of-school learners’ (often being children with high support needs and therefore victims of compounded marginalisation) was also highlighted as urgent issues to be addressed.

The final submission dealt with the alarmingly high incidence of violence, abuse and murder of persons with disability and their lack of access to justice. Some of the recommendations included ensuring that the justice system is made more accessible to persons with disability.

The response by the President and the Cabinet Ministers in attendance was overwhelmingly positive. He recognized the clear articulation and urgency of the needs expressed by the sector and emphasized its rallying slogan of ” nothing about us, without us”. The President also committed to considering all submissions made (verbal and written) and undertook to include and mainstream persons with disabilities within all levels of government, ensuring ongoing monitoring and evaluation, as well as accountability for non-compliance. The sector felt for the very first time that their concerns were heard, taken to heart and that their strategic input would be prioritized and actioned by government.