IN Zimbabwe, people living with disabilities are treated as second class citizens. They are an afterthought. They are discriminated against. They are disowned and neglected by their families. Society frowns upon them and sees them as a burden.
What society forgets is that many people who have a disability were not necessarily born with it, a disability can happen to anyone at any time if misfortune strikes. Therefore, society must learn to embrace people with disability and care for them and treat them as equals.
The job of looking after people with disabilities must not be left to the Government and NGOs such as Michael Tinotenda Foundation (MTF), which has embarked on a drive to give wheelchairs to people who have challenges with walking. The community as a whole must look after its own.
First, we should care for people with disabilities because one way or the other disability affects us. It is inevitable. We either know, will know, or will become disabled one day. Certainly, we should care about disability issues and people with disabilities. If anything, we should become even more attentive and engaged in addressing the concerns of people living with disabilities.
Our failure to care and adequately look after people with disabilities means that many live in isolation. Frequently, we don’t see people with disabilities. Our cultural and interpersonal blindness may result from a lack of awareness, insensitivity, or intentionality.
Such invisibility and isolation increase as depression sets in for those with disabilities and they resign themselves to being on the margins. We must make every effort to open our eyes and communities to be inclusive.
A disability does not mean inability. Many people with disabilities live productive lives and those who don’t it’s because they have no access to resources to empower them. Often society sees people with disabilities as a burden, if we look in the mirror we will realise that it is us, society, which suppresses their abilities.
If we were to empower people with disabilities we will come to appreciate that they are invaluable and indispensable.
The best way to help them is to give them social justice, empowerment and the first step to achieve this is by talking to them. If we do that we will learn that people living with disabilities live very fulfilling lives, contrary to the way society at large often views them. What they need from us is support, not pity, not tears and certainly not comforting hugs.
This is called disability inclusion. It is part of a wider movement for inclusive development that strives for the active participation and representation of all people regardless of age, gender, disability, ethnicity, race, class, religion, or any other characteristic.
Disability-inclusive development is part of this social justice movement that challenges unjust systems and exclusive policies, relations and practice. Talking about disability inclusion is no longer sufficient; there must be action for change.
And that action must come from all of us.
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