It is estimated that over three million people are living with disabilities in South Africa, which equates to about 7.5% of the country’s population. A person with a disability is described as anyone who has a difficulty in bodily functioning or in the mind, which makes them have extended difficulties in executing a task or performing certain activities.
Born with quadriplegia, a symptom of paralysis that affects all a person’s limbs. Khutso Sekowe from Pretoria is fully reliant on a wheelchair. However, he says he is capable of doing everything for himself without depending on someone else.
“People living with disabilities are not the same, there are various types of disabilities. People tend to feel sorry for us living with disabilities, but everyone just wants to be understood and viewed as normal,” he says.
‘System just feels sorry for us’
“The system we are exposed to just feels sorry for us because people are not taught how to relate to those living with disabilities. Even in some fun places, people with disabilities are not allowed to use any machine irrespective of their disabilities. They claim to protect themselves in an event of an accident when they can always produce a consent form to protect themselves, yet they do not,” he explains.
According to Disability info South Africa (DiSA) founder, Alan Downey, it is of utmost importance that their rights as people living with disabilities need to be reminded and made aware to everyone, and furthermore, be made easily accessible.
Real change is needed
“Since 1996, there are various papers and policies that have been put in place to help fight for rights, which is an improvement on the past. They also have many new policies coming out which are encouraging companies and government departments to employ people with disabilities. However, these policies still need to be enforced properly for real change to occur,” he explains.
Director at Buang Jones Attorneys and former South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) provincial manager Buang Jones, highlights that Section 9 of the Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of disability, is one of the most important rights. But all are equally important in redressing inequalities between able-bodied and the disabled.
“Able-bodied people should support both those with visible and invisible disabilities by understanding the lived experiences of persons living with disabilities, advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities, and report incidents of disability rights infringements, mainstream disability in communities and workplaces, support awareness training and interventions and importantly, use acceptable terminology to refer to people with disabilities,” he says.
Rights for everyone
Regardless of the overwhelming challenges those living with disabilities are often faced with, most of them continue to live normal functional lives. Every human has fundamental rights, including persons living with disabilities.
“Disability is now included in the non-discrimination and equality clause of the constitution, thus bringing recognition of people with disabilities as equal citizens of the country. The use of terms like ‘handicapped’, ‘physically’ or ‘mentally challenged’ is inappropriate. We should fight against ignorance and end discrimination,” Jones says.
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