By Tsepang Nare
The modern world finds itself sinking deeper into problems that bedevil it. If its not climate change; it’s drought leading to increased levels of poverty which further widen the gap of inequality and at the end, injustice continues to prevail unabated.
Marginalisation, exclusion and segregation by status or class has become a key characteristic in any societal construct resulting in failure to tap into a crop of young leaders as well as embracing diversity that comes with power to conquer some of these outstanding challenges.
Corona Virus, which was first detected in 2019, has necessitated the need to change how we used to go about our business and adopt new ways. This has given relevance to Alvin Toffler’s statement which says, ‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn’.
The desire not to keep lives on hold has seen the rise in digitalisation where the digital space has taken over the physical space. Meetings, learning and all forms of entertainment have been taking place in various online platforms, which is something Africa was not accustomed to. In the process, having to learn to work from home and still be productive while unlearning the habit of gathering each time things have to be done.
As this unfolds, Persons with disabilities (PWDs) have found themselves part of such abrupt changes which have affected them as they had to find ways to fit in.
However, unlike other population groups in the society, PWDs had to follow prescribed ways of doing things without them being given a chance to speak out or voice their concerns as decision making processes were done using a ‘one size fits all‘ approach. As a result, the pandemic has seen increased suppression of the voice of PWDs who remain as shadow like figures nowhere closer to the decision-making table.
While digitalisation is a welcome move considering that the 4th industrialisation is a techno savvy world, to other marginalised populations, use of IT has further placed them at the periphery resulting in limited to no enjoyment of human rights like the right to inclusive and quality education.
UNESCO (2020) estimated that 1.6 billion children were affected by school closures and further more, UNICEF (2016) alluded that only 10% of children with disabilities in Africa do get enrolled at school and Zimbabwe’s estimated projection of learners with special needs stands just above 85 500.
These learners have also been forced by circumstances to adapt to distance learning. However, the environment likened to Zimbabwe has been characterised by skyrocketing data tariffs and lack of responsive budgetary systems that meet the needs of poor citizens. Instead over burdening of tax payers has seen the introduction of a mobile phone tax in the recently delivered budgetary speech for the year 2022 thereby, further dwindling efforts to make education accessible.
A notable case is one involving a young and innovative lady known as Rachael Inegbedion from Nigeria who stood up in the face of injustice by leading a group of disabled persons’ organisations in coming up with adaptive learning opportunities through combining technology to meet the special needs of people with Down Syndrome.
As a result of this community project, communication skills were enhanced as they learnt about Robotics, Physics and electricity. One would wonder how possible it is for someone with an intellectual disability to learn and master such technical stuff. It is never about one’s disability condition but environmental barriers, structural as well as systemic discrimination that hinders the manifestation of one’s capabilities.
This year’s International Day for Persons with Disabilities (IDPWD) runs under the theme “Leadership and Participation of Persons with disabilities towards an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world”.
To date, persons with disabilities are far away when discussions are made whose decisions have an adverse impact on their lives.
Transformative leadership known as Change that addresses the structural distribution of power and resources is necessary now more than ever. The story of the lady from Nigeria is one of the many undocumented stories of PWDs who work relentlessly to bring change in their small ways yet no matter how much they try, they rarely make it to the top in order to showcase their expertise. Although Zimbabwe has taken a positive stance through launching the National Disability Policy in June 2021 and subsequently witnessing the appointment the first ever High Court Judge with visual Impairment, more needs to be done in order to see representation of PWDs at National and provincial levels. In Parliament, 2 sets were reserved for PWD senators to lead a constituency projected to be close to 2 million. in as far as political participation is concerned, such leadership affects every facet of ordinary Zimbabweans.
As such, political parties need to nurture and harness the impeccable leadership qualities PWDs have through inclusive enactment of legislative frameworks that create room for effective participation.
This is because in such people lies a crop of leaders needed if ever inclusive development that embraces all is to be fulfilled.
Moreover, they know how best to address some of the long and outstanding issues affecting their sector. By making deliberate efforts to be inclusive we cultivate the desire to see a prosperous nation as this will bring the much-needed fruits engraved with excellence.
Tsepang T. Nare
(Disability Development Consultant)