AMID the tumultuous waves and hullabaloo crashing upon our nation, it becomes all too easy to overlook the voices of those who are often stigmatised and marginalised — persons with disabilities in all their diversities (PWDDs).
Yet, now more than ever, there is need to recognise the urgency of aligning disability inclusivity and management advocacy efforts with national level changes.
It is about time to shed light on the barriers and struggles faced by this sidelined community and embark on a journey towards a more inclusive and equitable society.
PWDDs face numerous barriers in local communities as they go about their work. These challenges dffer depending on the specific disability and the level of accessibility and inclusivity within the community.
Many local communities lack adequate accessible infrastructure, making it difficult for PWDDs to navigate public spaces, buildings, and transportation systems.
The absence of ramps, elevators, accessible toilets, and appropriate signage, for instance, create significant barriers to their mobility and participation in the workforce.
PWDDs often face discrimination and stigma in the workplace, hindering their opportunities for employment and career advancement.
Negative stereotypes and misconceptions about their abilities lead to exclusion and limited job prospects, perpetuating a cycle of marginalisation.
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Many times, PWDDs encounter limited employment opportunities and face higher rates of unemployment or underemployment compared to their non-disabled counterparts.
Employers become hesitant to provide reasonable accommodations or adapt their workplaces to meet the needs of employees with disabilities, further exacerbating the lack of inclusive employment practices.
Nationally and globally, statistics for full employment or underemployment for PWDDs vary across communities, and it is critical to consider that disability is a diverse category encompassing various impairments and conditions.
The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency notes that about 900 000 to 1,4 million people are disabled in Zimbabwe.
According to a recent study by the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped, from these official figures, only 2% of PWDDs are employed in the public sector, and overall, less than 7% are in employment.
A further 8% are vendors, while 29% are involved in farming activities for subsistence. Nineteen percent are said to be studying.
The International Labour Organisation estimates that globally, the employment rate for PWDDs is significantly lower than the average employment rate.
However, precise global statistics are challenging to obtain due to variations in disability definitions, data collection methodologies, and reporting practices across countries.
Experts assert that regarding underemployment, limited data is available on a global scale.
However, underemployment is a common issue for PWDDs, as they struggle to find suitable jobs that match their skills and qualifications, leading to employment that does not fully utilise their abilities.
It is also critically important to note that the employment and underemployment rates for PWDDs vary widely depending on factors such as the level of disability-inclusive policies, accessibility measures, educational opportunities, and societal attitudes towards disability within each country or region.
Further, PWDDs face challenges in accessing support services, such as assistive devices, sign language interpreters, or personal assistants, which are limited or non-existent in many local communities.
This lack of support hinders PWDDs in effectively carrying out their work and participating fully and effectively in the workforce.
Access to quality education and training programmes are also a significant challenge for PWDDs.
Limited availability of inclusive educational institutions, lack of accessible teaching materials, and insufficient support for students with disabilities hinder their learning opportunities and future employability.
PWDDs often experience social isolation and exclusion, both in the workplace and within their local communities. Prejudice and lack of awareness lead to social barriers, making it difficult for them to build relationships and engage in community activities.
Many PWDDs face financial constraints due to additional expenses related to their disability, such as medical costs, assistive devices, or specialised transportation.
These financial burdens can further limit their ability to access education, training, or employment opportunities.
Against this backdrop, addressing these barriers and statistics require collaborative efforts from multiple stakeholders, including governments, employers, community organisations, and society.
It is crucial to promote disability-inclusive policies, raise awareness, and actively work towards creating supportive environments that enable PWDDs to fully participate in the workforce and local communities.
At this juncture, this opinion piece delves into the critical importance of strategic planning and effective communication strategies as advocacy in amplifying the voices of PWDDs and fostering meaningful change at every level of governance.
In aligning this special type of advocacy with national level changes, key considerations are needed, such as understanding the policy landscape, that is, national policies, legislation and frameworks related to disability inclusion and management.
In addition, there is need to identify key decision-makers and stakeholders involved in shaping and implementing these policies; analyse the existing gaps, challenges, and opportunities within the policy landscape to inform the advocacy strategy.
Coalition building and partnerships
There is need to form alliances and partnerships with disability-focused organisations, civil society groups, and other stakeholders to amplify advocacy efforts.
Collaborate with organisations working on related issues and seek opportunities for joint advocacy initiatives.
A united front strengthens advocacy messages, increase collective influence, and demonstrate broad-based support for disability inclusive and management policy changes.
Framing and messaging
Craft compelling messages that resonate with decision-makers and align with national priorities.
Highlight the social and economic benefits of disability inclusion and effective management practices.
Emphasise the rights-based approach and the importance of equal opportunities, accessibility, and participation for PWDDs.
Messages should be tailored to the specific concerns and priorities of government ministries, legislators, and technocrats, demonstrating how advocacy efforts align with their portfolios and the overall national agenda.
There is need to develop a targeted engagement plan to interact with decision-makers.
Request meetings, submit policy briefs, and participate in relevant policy forums, committees, or consultations. Clearly articulate advocacy goals and proposed policy changes.
Analysts note that it is important to share evidence-based research, data, and success stories that demonstrate the positive impact of disability inclusive and management practices.
Establishing personal connections, building relationships, and maintaining open lines of communication to effectively convey messages and influence decision-making processes, are equally crucial.
Leveraging media and public engagement
Media experts point out that utilising media and public engagement strategies to raise awareness, generate public support, and influence national level changes should be highly considered.
Engage with journalists and media outlets to secure media coverage of disability-related issues, highlighting success stories, challenges, and the need for policy reforms.
Leverage on social media platforms, online campaigns, and public events to engage the public, foster dialogue, and build a broader movement for disability inclusion and management.
Public support and awareness exert pressure on decision-makers and increase the likelihood of policy changes.
It is also worth to observe that advocacy for disability inclusive and management policy changes is an ongoing process.
Maintain a long-term commitment to the cause as policy changes often require sustained advocacy efforts.
Continuously adapt strategies based on evolving political and social contexts.
Staying informed about national and international developments related to disability rights and management practices cannot be over-emphasised.
Engage in continuous learning, capacity building, and knowledge sharing to strengthen advocacy efforts.
Monitoring, evaluation, and accountability
Implement robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to assess the impact of advocacy efforts.
Monitor policy developments, legislative changes, and implementation of disability inclusive and management practices.
Evaluate the effectiveness and reach of advocacy activities, including media coverage, public engagement, and policy outcomes.
Regularly communicate progress and achievements to stakeholders, ensuring transparency and accountability while demonstrating the value of advocacy work.
Policy research and analysis
There is need, furthermore, to conduct thorough research and analysis of relevant policies, legislation, and government priorities, understanding the political landscape, knowing key decision-makers, and the power dynamics.
This information will help identify opportunities for advocacy and aligning messaging with the government agenda.
By carefully considering these key aspects, disability inclusive and management advocacy efforts can be effectively aligned with national level changes.
This strategic approach increases the likelihood of influencing policies, legislation and practices that promote disability inclusion and effective management in society.