Government must do more for people with disabilities
Every year, from November 3 to December 3, SA observes Disability Month. The theme for 2020 is: “Together Building Communities Inclusive of Disabilities”. This year’s theme is in line with the phrase “nothing about us without us” and is intended to create global awareness about the abilities of people with disabilities.
The World Bank estimates about 1 billion people (15%) around the globe have some form of disability. In 2018, Stats SA reported that SA has about 3.8 million people with disabilities, which constituted 7.74% of the total population.
In addressing the plight of people with disabilities and to afford them human rights as citizens, SA developed a myriad of laws, regulations, policies, protocols and programmes across different areas including education and employment. These are commendable efforts indicative of the country’s noble intentions, but not matched by similar efficient and effective efforts in implementation.
The National Development Plan (NDP) Vision 2030, launched in 2012, outlined the shared goals that we have as a country. It has been eight years since the adoption of the NDP and the National Planning Commission (NPC), by direction of President Cyril Ramaphosa, has undertaken a review of the NDP.
The review findings show that while there has been progress in some areas, significant challenges remain. The NPC proposes that course correction is required if we are to achieve our goals in the remaining 10 years to 2030.
According to the NDP, people with disabilities must have enhanced access to quality education and employment. One of the intentions of the NDP is to prioritise efforts to ensure relevant and accessible skills development programmes for people with disabilities, to link with equal opportunities for their productive and gainful employment.
The objective is echoed by the UN Convention for Persons with Disabilities regarding access, which encourages member states to enable people with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, including education and employment.
In pursuit of this objective, the SA government further developed the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2015, to implement the disability focused government programmes. The country progressed in implementing the disability-related policies, legislation framework and programmes, including adoption of a constitution that guarantees the right to equality all the citizens.
Despite the disability stewardship and institutional location being vested at the highest level in government, comprehensive implementation and monitoring of related programmes still fell short of plans and expectations.
In 1997, the government published the White Paper on Integrated National Disability Strategy, followed by the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000, which gave effect to the equality clause in the Bill of Rights, disallowing discrimination of people with disabilities and promoting equal access to socio-economic services such as education and employment by all citizens including people with disabilities.
Recognising the progress did not render the NPC complacent to the country’s negligible implementation of the legal, regulatory and developmental frameworks to reduce inequality between people with and without disabilities, to address discrimination against persons with disabilities, and to enhance their access to education and employment opportunities.
The NPC is concerned that despite the disability stewardship and institutional location being vested at the highest level in government, comprehensive implementation and monitoring of related programmes still fell short of plans and expectations.
The government through the Employment Equity Act, set a 2% employment target for people with disabilities, yet only 1% has been achieved to date. Furthermore, the statistics show declining percentages of employment of people with disabilities by employers as tracked by the department of employment and labour. Lack of specific programmes in place for people with disabilities within the department of small business development also limited the capacity of the government to implement such programmes.
Schooling & health care concerns
In the education sphere, concerns relate to inadequate implementation across early childhood development (ECD), basic education and higher education. Poor children and those with disabilities have limited access to all types of ECD programmes. In addition, the quality of ECD is poor.
For example, in 2019 the department of basic education (DBE) reported that most ECD practitioners in grade R (reception year) did not have relevant qualifications to manage ECD centres. This shows most ECD practitioners are unqualified and lack the knowledge and skills necessary to provide children with the required cognitive and physical stimulation at that critical age. This too contributes to the substandard implementation of related programmes in the education area.
Most ECD practitioners are unqualified and lack the knowledge and skills necessary to provide children with the required cognitive and physical stimulation at that critical age.
Regarding the basic education, interventions manifested in minimal gains. The expectation was that the number of the specified category of people with disabilities without schooling should decrease over time. Instead, there was an increase of 3.1% from 21.1% to 24.2% of people with disabilities aged 15-25 years who were not attending schooling between 2011 and 2016.
The limited implementation of programmes goes beyond the disability area. It is noted across the spectrum of invention programmes implemented and managed by various government departments in most areas. This implies that people with disabilities, who already are at a disadvantage, are severely affected by the minimal implementation of government policies, legislation framework and programmes.
Another example is in the area of health, where the country has comprehensive mental health legislation and policies such as the Mental Health Care Act and the mental Health Care Amendment Act, and the National Mental Health Policy Framework 2013-2020 and Strategic Plan. However, evidence points to their suboptimal implementation.
The Life Esidimeni case is a classic example of minimal implementation of disability-related legislation, policies and government programmes.
What more can the government do?
The government has various options to address the highlighted challenge of limited implementation of disability-related policies, legislation framework and programmes, to alleviate the plight of people with disabilities in SA.
Among others, there is a need for the government to strengthen the monitoring and evaluation of disability programmes to track implementation progress and impact of the current legislation, policies and programmes.
On the matter of enhancing access to education and employment by people with disabilities, the government could consider:
- addressing associated barriers, such as limited ability of some mainstream schoolteachers to effectively adjust their teaching styles to meet the individual needs of pupils with disabilities; and
- accelerating the implementation of laws, policies and programmes intended to provide equal access to education, employment, health, and social assistance to people with disabilities.
Scaling up training of teachers and ECD practitioners by the DBE is key, to increase the number of teachers trained to work with children with disabilities, both in mainstream and special schools.
In addition, the department of social development could also play a role in ensuring employment of appropriately qualified ECD practitioners who care for children with disabilities, particularly those who require cognitive and physical stimulation at this critical age.
As the country, and indeed the world, grapple with the long-term planning implications of Covid-19, the need to address limitations and impediments such as the minimal implementation of policy and legislative frameworks is urgent and necessary to enhance access to education, employment, health and social services for people with disabilities, so that we can achieve the objectives of the NDP.
- Mocumi is a commissioner at the National Planning Commission