Disabled people’s living conditions dire

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Carole Tashaya, a blind single-mother, is a familiar figure at road intersections in Harare, where she is often seen “begging for alms” and on pavements where she sings to passing pedestrians to help in cash or kind.

Tashaya (27) whose rural home is in Masvingo, said she resorted to begging on the streets when her family disowned her after she fell pregnant with her first son and the father denied responsibility.

Without any vocational skill or primary education, she became destitute and, with her child, faced a gloomy future.

“I wish I could have at least attended primary school so that I would have had something to fall back on instead of relying on the mercy of relatives. Now look at me, I am also depriving my children of the right to education because they have to hold my hand at road intersections while I ask for assistance,” she said, referring to a little boy guiding her, while another small baby was strapped on her back.

She said she could not use contraceptives as she had no access to educational materials on reproductive health.

Authorities in Zimbabwe say there are tens of thousands of other people like Tashaya who are deprived of their rights because of a dearth of facilities for the disabled.

“Presently the greatest challenge for people with handicaps is access to basic primary education without even considering secondary or tertiary education,” said Innocent Chimonyo, the Inclusive Education Programme officer at Leonard Cheshire Zimbabwe Trust (LCZT).

He said the government has to alleviate the plight of disabled children by promoting inclusive education at all public schools with equipment and facilities to cater for disabled pupils.

Chimonyo indicated there were few resource centres within other ordinary schools to cater for the disabled; hence they had special classes which, however, to an extent were discriminatory as socialisation was restricted — because the children would be isolated from the rest.

“Most institutions are not user-friendly for children with visual impairments, mental challenges, listening and voice handicaps or those in wheelchair,” he said.

The official expressed grief over some public schools which he said were operating with dilapidated structures.

On a more positive note, he said, a new handbook on special needs training has been compiled and is expected to be launched on September 15 this year by LCZT and the government.

Chimonyo said it therefore follows that responsible government portfolios should structure and implement policies that ensure the needs of people living with disabilities are adequately met.

He said people with disabilities often suffer neglect because of negative attitudes and perceptions, even from family members.

According to the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (Nascoh), there are 1,2 million people with disabilities in Zimbabwe, which translates into 10% of the population.

“People with disabilities suffer from an all-encompassing lack of access to fundamental rights and freedoms that other people in society take for granted,” said Nascoh information officer Lovemore Rambiyawo.

“This lack of access spans the whole spectrum of society, from education, healthcare, employment, transportation, information, sports and recreation, accommodation and the built environment.

“The majority of buildings in the country’s towns and cities are generally inaccessible to people with disabilities, especially those in wheelchairs, thus further compounding the social exclusion of people with disabilities,” he said.

The Sexual Reproduction Health Rights programmes officer of the Southern Africa HIV and Aids Information Dissemination Services, Renias Mundingi, said people with disabilities were left out in most sex education or reproduction health education programmes because of lack of suitable materials such as books and Braille material for the blind.

“Marginalised or minority groups such as those with disabilities require extra attention when empowering them with education. From our interaction with different local youth networks in efforts to spearhead the fight against HIV and Aids spread amongst them, we have found out that a holistic approach is required in disseminating information as a weapon to fight against the spread of the disease,” he said.

He said some people with disabilities, who have become sexually active, find it difficult to use contraceptives like condoms due to their physical conditions.

He said his organisation was working out ways to educate such persons on the best methods they should employ during sexual encounters.