June 15, 2024

Sipho Rihlamvu: Chairperson of Disability Identity & Events

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JOHANNESBURG: At the back of June being declared Youth Month in South Africa, and in reverence to the many youths who are languishing in the margins, NPO Disability Identity & Events is set to host a symposium at Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg, to cast into focus, challenges that are affecting youth with disabilities in that history-laden community.

 Themed Giving Youth with Disability a Face, the event, to be held on Saturday, June 15, 2024, at the iconic AlexSan Kopano Resource Centre, will be a platform for meaningful dialogue, bringing together experts, stakeholders, policymakers, members of the community, and the disability sector to reflect on the current status of disability as a social construct and to understand the experiences of persons with disabilities in interaction with their environments.

 Youth with disabilities are among the most marginalised and poorest of the world’s youth population and are more likely to face severe social, economic, and civic disparities as compared with those without disabilities. Exclusion, isolation, and abuse, as well as a lack of educational and economic opportunities, are their daily experiences.

 According to the World Health Organisation, children with disabilities have a lower probability of entering, staying, or advancing in school than children without disabilities. Educational establishments are often inaccessible, lack appropriate facilities, or do not provide students with disabilities with the accommodations or assistive devices necessary for their inclusion and academic success. By the time they enter adolescence, youth with disabilities run a high risk of being illiterate, leading to restricted opportunities for further education and employment.

 Furthermore, sensitization, awareness-raising, capacity-building programmes, and special education training designed to adequately prepare teachers and educators are sorely lacking. This explains why youth with disabilities remain underrepresented in higher education institutions.

 Unemployment rates for youth with disabilities are higher than for the rest of the youth population. While inequities in education and vocational training resources can negatively impact the employment options available to persons with disabilities, negative attitudes about disability and discrimination based on disability status create significant barriers to long term, appropriately compensated employment. If employment is obtained, youth with disabilities are typically given little room for error and are labelled unemployable if they encounter struggles on the job.

 For young women with disabilities, the situation is even worse, as they are forced to work against disability and gender-based societal prejudices.

 Young people with disabilities often experience rejection and seclusion due to their peers’ misconceptions, or prejudices. Activities and places that are inaccessible exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation. Ignorance and misinformation about disability itself contribute to feelings of isolation from peers. Youth programmes seldom address issues unique to youth with disabilities, nor do they seek out their participation.

 Greater awareness and understanding of disability are fundamental to improving the lived experience of this vulnerable sector. Consequently, concerted efforts are needed to raise awareness and disseminate accurate information that challenges misconceptions and stereotypes about persons with disabilities.

 Designing accessible infrastructure and providing equal opportunities for youth with disabilities to participate in all aspects of youth development are equally important in promoting full participation and inclusion in the communities in which they live.

 Youth with disabilities face the same issues and concerns as those without disabilities, but societal prejudices, barriers, and ignorance can complicate and intensify these concerns. To date, most communities have not fully integrated youth with disabilities, leading to the exclusion and isolation of a large and important segment of the population. Clearly, more work is required to create an integrated and equitable world for youth with disabilities.

 Providing opportunities for full and equal social, civic, economic, and political participation is beneficial not only to youth with disabilities, but also to their surrounding communities, allowing youth to contribute fully to the country’s development and economic growth to the fullest extent of their abilities.

 Since the democratic elections in 1994, no research has established the situation in which youth with disabilities find themselves in comparison to youth without disabilities. New legislation and policies facilitate the empowerment of persons with disabilities, including the White Paper on an Integrated National Disability Strategy, and the Employment Equity Act.

 A policy on inclusive education was introduced in 2001 through the White Paper on Special Needs Education, while the social development legislation provides free health care for all persons with disabilities and made a disability grant available to all persons with disabilities on a limited income. A child support grant is also available for children with disabilities, up to the age of 17 years.

 Although, since 1994, South Africa has had legislation in place to improve the conditions for persons with disabilities, for the cohort of young people with disabilities, it has not significantly improved their ability to sustain their own livelihoods. While current legislation has helped create a new sense of awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities and the formulation of policy is commendable, the implementation of these policies remains a challenge. These policies had, therefore, had little impact on the ability of youth with disabilities to meet desired outcomes in sustaining their livelihoods.

 Reflecting on the object of the symposium, Sipho Rihlamvu, Chairperson of Disability Identity & Events, said:

 “Youth with disabilities must be empowered to participate at all levels of their lives. The prevalence rates of stigma attached to disabilities are very high, not just in South Africa, but worldwide.

 “It is our collective responsibility to dismantle barriers to accessing and enjoying all rights enshrined in the South African Constitution’s Bill of Rights and other relevant policies and legislation, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

 “We all play a crucial role in breaking down barriers by empowering youth with disabilities by actively engaging with them,” he added.

 “This ground-breaking symposium will give youth with disabilities in Alexandra a face by creating a safe space for them to express their concerns, needs, and challenges and enjoin us to work together to overcome these,” Rihlamvu concluded.

 The highlight of the event will be a roundtable led by youth with disabilities, where they will be sharing their lived experiences, ranging from education, employment, access, social exclusion, and mental health. They will propose to the symposium, the South Africa they would like to live in.

Submitted: Disability Identity & Events

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