People with Disabilities, (PWDs) have bemoaned the failure by communities and institutions in integrating their needs in programming and inclusion.
During a Cultural Cafe engagement on Thursday 15 November 2023 hosted by Miss Deaf Pride Zimbabwe in Harare, participants had consensus that there is a long way to go for inclusion and integration of people with disabilities.
“Stigma discrimination and misconceptions have made it difficult for persons with disabilities. When you bear a disabled child, people in our communities barely take it well, they assume and believe that it is a curse or the disability has come as a result of some rituals. So there is need to really educate them and make them aware that it is part of life and when we go out they will not be discriminating against us because they will be equipped with knowledge,” said one of the participants.
Closely linked to the community and institutions, is family.
Participants felt that awareness needs to start from parents that give birth to children with disability so that if there is acceptance at family level, a person with a disability may grow up knowing to be loved.
“Parents also need to be counseled so that they can accept their child, because at the end of the day when we say our homes are a root cause of marginalisation its because of lack of acceptance from the mothers who would have given birth to children with disability. So there is need for public hospitals to have a counsellor in the maternity wards so that they can give counselling to mothers who would have given birth to children with disabilities,” said wheelchair bound Stella Jongwe.
Jongwe’s sentiments were not isolated
Kudakwashe Madondo added that apart from the need to counsel parents, there is need to raise awareness for everyone at home.
“Some families isolate their children with disabilities in a way that they will not be able to play with the others or work with the others at home. So when you go out of your home unit we do not expect to be accepted because our families have failed to accept us,” she said.
If family fails to love their children with disabilities they are subject to abuse from religious leaders.
“Religion is part of our society and daily life, everyone goes to church, its either you go on Saturday or Sunday, but, for us people with disabilities it’s a different situation. Talking from experience I went to church and a pastor or prophet started to pray for people and when he got to me he said he wanted to change the colour of my skin to be black, like I was shocked. I opened my eyes in shock. In another church I was placed to sit with people in wheelchairs, on crutches, and different disabilities. We had been discriminated. I had gone to church to worship but they thought I sought healing, of which I didn’t. so I nolonger go to church because they are yet to accept us, they think we ewant to be healed,” said Jennifer Mudiridza who has albinism.
Apart from churches, people with disabilities can not easily access service from public institutions.
“Where I stay, I need to constantly visit the social welfare department, but, I cannot get inside the building to get assisted because they only have staircases so if I cannot get inside, who is going to speak on my behalf?” querried Jongwe.
“When others get there, there is no sign language for those with hearing impairments and the situation is worse when we go to health facilities. When I go there with a problem I need to tell the nurse my problem and she cannot use sign language or understand sign language,” she added.
Miss Deaf Pride Zimbabwe convened this engagement with the aim of creating an enabling social and civic space for PWDs to continuously engage and deliberate critical issues as well as to address negative mental models caused by societal norms.
The participants also proffered solutions that can be immediately rectified to mitigate stigma and discrimination.
These include elevators for wheelchair bound persons, and in the elevator ,a voice that announces the floor that the lift has arrived in for people with visual impairments.
They also lobbied for the presence of sign language service in public and private institutions that deal with people.
They pushed for action, beyond the recommendations from the workshop to representatives from Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare.