Disability does not mean inability.
This has become such a hackneyed phrase in the local media that hardly an article is written on a disabled person’s achievements that does not feature this phrase.
Perhaps it indicates the writer’s surprise at what disabled people can achieve despite the limitations their disability imposes, surprise perhaps because those who are able-bodied find it difficult to imagine how they would manage if deprived of the use of one or more of their limbs or faculties.
When a normally active person becomes suddenly disabled through an accident, a lot of adjustment is required.
Not only does the person perhaps have to learn how to manage physical tasks in a different way, but there is almost inevitably some emotional and psychological adjustment required.
That is why at the NSSA Workers’ Compensation Centre in Bulawayo a multidisciplinary approach is taken to rehabilitating those who have been seriously injured or disabled as a result of a workplace accident.
The multidisciplinary team at the centre includes physiotherapists, occupational therapists, rehabilitation technicians, a doctor, nurses, a social worker, vocational training officers and administrative and support staff.
For some of the injured workers referred to the centre, the task may be to learn how to walk again or to do things in a different way, with the assistance sometimes of various appliances, so that they can return to work.
For others the disability may be severe.
In addition to learning how to tackle physical tasks, they previously took for granted, they may have severe limitations to adjust to and may have to adjust to their friends, colleagues and strangers regarding them in a different way.
They may face new challenges of self-image.
If they are unable to return to their former jobs, they may have to consider what new type of employment or self-employment they could embark on.
The centre offers vocational training to assist with this — though the vocational training may be provided at a later stage, after the individual has returned home or been resettled in a new environment.
Some injured workers may be unable to return to work and are likely living as lodgers or in rented accommodation, which they may no longer have sufficient means to pay for, they opt to be resettled at their rural homes.
NSSA, through its multidisciplinary team of professionals at the centre, assists with all phases of an injured worker’s rehabilitation.
This includes physical, emotional and psychological recovery, facilitation of adjustments in family relationships and relationships with colleagues, provision of various aids and equipment, facilitating resettlement and integration or reintegration into a village community, the adjustment of the home environment to suit the needs of the disabled person, the training and payment of care workers for those in need of constant care, the provision of vocational training and on-going support after the person has gone home.
When it comes to adjustment of the environment, this could include the provision of a wheelchair ramp and handrails in toilets and bathrooms or, in a rural environment, the building of a Blair toilet and levelling of uneven ground around the home.
Where vocational training is concerned, courses conducted at the centre include carpentry, leather craft, poultry and market gardening, metalwork and tailoring.
However, even with such training managing to make a living can be difficult.
Resources are required for self-employment in any of these trades.
The social worker at the rehabilitation centre who visits those who have been resettled in rural areas says the biggest challenge those he visits in rural areas face is poverty.
The Workers’ Compensation pension that disabled workers receive is helpful.
However, there is often school fees to be paid, as well as food and other living expenses to be met, leaving little for the capital and operational funds required for any self-employment project.
Even though, there are some success stories, particularly where there are supportive family members.
In one such family, a disabled worker was able to use the proceeds of a successful poultry and garden project to open a boutique in Victoria Falls.
Life is full of challenges for everyone.
For active workers who suddenly find themselves disabled, the challenges are enormous.
With the right support, however, most challenges can be overcome.
NSSA, through the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Fund and the Workers’ Compensation Rehabilitation Centre in Bulawayo and the professionals it employs there, provides support at multiple levels for those who have been left with disabling injuries as a result of work-related accidents.
It also works with families and community leaders to ensure those returning home or being resettled have the best possible chance of being reintegrated into their families and communities.
Such family and community support can be crucial to the ability of a disabled person to continue to contribute to the well-being of both family and society, despite the limitations the disability imposes on him or her.