LILLIAN BANDA, Lusaka
DISABILITY is not inability, civil rights activists say, but to lead productive lives, the disabled need enabling laws and policies.
These laws should not just be on paper, but they need to be implemented so that people with disabilities are empowered to participate in all spheres of community life.
It is the lack of progressive laws, and where they exist, failure to implement them, that compels people with disabilities to depend on alms and fail to explore their potential in life.
For this reason, the international community convened in Lusaka two weeks ago to share community-based strategies that could help people with disabilities to lead productive and fulfilled lives.
One of the things that delegates to the Sixth Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) conference noted is that compared to other countries on the continent, Zambia has in place progressive laws and policies aimed at addressing issues affecting people with disabilities.
Delegates lauded the country for demonstrating commitment to ensuring that people with disabilities have access to equal opportunities. They cited the domestication of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) as an indication that the Zambian government is committed to upholding the rights of persons with disabilities.
President Edgar Lungu was praised for delivering what delegates called a warm and progressive speech. He graced the official opening of the conference, which was held at Intercontinental Hotel in Lusaka under the theme ‘CBR for resilience building and sustainable development: Leave no one behind’. Over 400 local and international delegates attended the conference, whose objective was to share knowledge, experiences and best practices with regard to addressing disability issues.
Federation of Disability Organisation in Malawi (FEDOMA) observed that Zambia has in place good laws and policies aimed at responding to challenges confronting persons with disabilities but just needs to implement them.
“Zambia has good laws and policies to respond to challenges affecting people with disabilities compared to other African countries. What remains is just enforcement of these laws and policies. One lesson that we can share is having a mainstreaming strategy for disability. Disability should no longer be an issue for any relevant line ministry but should cut across all ministries so that they all take on issues of disability,” explains FEDOMA executive director Action Amos.
Mr. Amos also advised that the financing and budgeting of disability issues should be planned arrangements and not an afterthought. He appealed to Zambians to take advantage of pronouncements and promises made by the head of State.
During his address to the CBR conference, President Lungu appealed to the construction sector to ensure that they take into account the needs of individuals with disabilities. He pointed out that any person is at risk of suffering some form of disability.
“It is now expected that there will be tangible investments in disability programmes,”Archie Hinchcliffe Disability Intervention (AHDI) programme manager Gertrude Kapulisa said.
Ms. Kapulisa said it is good that planners and engineers have been challenged to come up with infrastructure that can be accessed by everyone. She said the country would do well to invest inclusive development programmes as it is a sure way of making sure that no one is left behind.
In the same vein, an international disability rights advocate from Nigeria notes that leaving no one behind in CBR of the disabled requires investing in the visibility of individuals with disabilities.
“There still exist stereotypes resulting from disability. We need political will and to work collectively to remove barriers that impede people with disabilities to participate effectively in the development processes. Let us try to build a movement of people with disabilities so that they help to push for the implementation of processes that ensure that we don’t leave anyone behind,” a delegate, Ekaete Judith Umoh, said.
And those working to ensure that people with disabilities have access to justice observe that a lot remains to be done in order to make rights of disabled persons a reality.
It was noted that having in place good laws and policies is not good enough because many disabled people are not aware of their entitlements as provided for in the constitution and other subsidiary laws.
“This is where awareness raising becomes an important aspect of the advocacy and lobby strategy because many persons with disabilities are not aware of these entitlements. The strategy should be about raising community awareness and public interest in the subject so that the public develops interest in disability issues and rights provided for in the constitution and subsidiary legislation. These entitlements can be claimed from duty bearers,” Disability Rights Watch chairperson Joseph Munsanje said.
The delegates also observed that the implementation of disability-related policy documents has significant implication on the realisation of inclusiveness of persons with disabilities in most African countries.
Martha Chalwe, of the University of Zambia’s School of Health Sciences, says lack of implementation of existing policies and guidelines has disadvantaged people with disabilities. She asserts that there in need for continued sensitisation on the existence of documents such as the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2012. Dr Chalwe pointed out that the said Act demands that every organisation or institution must have a percentage of persons with disabilities in their establishment.
And CBR Africa Network chairperson Musonda Siame told delegates to strive for visible results in the delivery of CBR as a service to persons with disabilities.
“We are working towards a shift from CBR to community based inclusive development (CBID) because it is important for the grassroots not to be left behind. The transition must be visible in our programming and service delivery because CBR is about inclusion, which must translate into resilience,” Mr. Siame said when he addressed conference attendees.
He further commended the Zambian government’s demonstrated commitment to working towards inclusiveness of people with disabilities.
LILLIAN BANDA, Lusaka