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Opinion - Is there room for the disabled?

2021-05-14  Reverend Jan Scholtz

Opinion - Is there room for the disabled?

Persons with disabilities are struggling to find and retain employment in Namibia. It is estimated that most of the disabled persons are excluded from the open market in
Namibia. Research has indicated that unemployment amongst disabled people stands at a record high of 39% compared to the national unemployment rate of 28%. 

Furthermore, considering that persons with disabilities amount to about 5% of the Namibian population (amounting to about 120 000 people), it is apparent that thousands of Namibians require additional assistance
 (The Namibian, 2021).

This picture does not seem to have become any brighter over time. The under-representation of disabled persons in the labour market is consistent with a worldwide trend and is a cause and effect of their social exclusion, or of their inclusion on unfair terms. Throughout history, responses of societies to what is regarded as typical behaviour, experience and appearance range from charity
 to judgement, as well as the removal of people with atypical bodies from society (E. De Ploy & SF Gibson: Studying Disability, 2011). In the Namibian case, between April 2020 to June 2020, only one person with disabilities was employed (The Namibian, 17 August 2020).

Oppression is more closely connected with race and, to a lesser extent, gender. The common sense definition of disability most people are likely to give is that someone is disabled when their body or mind doesn’t ‘work properly’ (Swartz and Watermeyer, 1991).   

The way of thinking characterises disability as a problematic individual status, the solution to which are to fix the disabled persons or to have
others take care of the disabled person. 

This personal tragedy theory of disability has for the last four decades been challenged by disability movements in various parts of the world, who have argued that it has relegated disabled person to the margins
of society, dependent on others and severely stigmatised. 

Instead of focusing on individual characteristics, the focus should be on the ways in which environmental, social and cultural barriers disable people (M. Olivier: The politics of disablement, 1990).

The shift from individual models of disability to what has broadly been termed the social model of disability has been credited with disability as a human rights issue, instead of a medical or welfare issue. 

Furthermore, the government of the Republic of Namibia has ratified the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2004 and endorsed the African Decade Plan of Action for Persons with Disabilities in 2005. Consequentially, a National Disability Mainstreaming Plan was launched on 3rd December 2020. This plan is premised on the assumption that as an inclusive society, Namibia is committed to creating a society for all, in which everyone will feel accepted, appreciated, loved, protected and fulfilled, irrespective of their abilities and disabilities (The Namibian, 17 December 2020).

In summary, we are aware that the current resources required for transformation are limited, however, the implementation of the rights of persons with disabilities call for an integrated and inclusive action to accelerate transformation and redress for persons with disabilities. Disability mainstreaming will
only be achieved through integrated and inclusive planning, and budgeting aimed at empowering persons with disabilities. 

Additionally, although
much has been done to improve the quality of life the disabled persons, we must continue to hold all relevant role players, private and public, accountable and require them to work progressively to ensure access to opportunities for these disabled and vulnerable persons. 

In conclusion, I quote the words of the famous Shakespeare who once said: “I cried when I had no shoes, but I stopped crying when I saw a man without legs.” and as the Italian Jewish Partisan and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi famously asked: “If not now, when?”

2021-05-14  Reverend Jan Scholtz

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