People With Disabilities excluded in key sectors of national development

People with Disabilities (PWDs) are significantly excluded from key sectors, services, and processes of society, a new Zimbabwe Disability Inclusion Survey Report by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) has revealed.

According to ZCC, the research report on disability is a culmination of its general assembly resolution to inform their public engagement on disability inclusion issues.

“This study was conducted to assess the state of disability inclusion by key sectors in Zimbabwe. The main research question for the study was: to what extent are persons with disabilities meaningfully participating in the church, civil society, private sector, local and central government processes, and initiatives?”

Specifically, the study aimed at ascertaining citizens’ perspectives and experiences on disability inclusion in the church, private sector, civil society, local and central government. It also served as a means of identifying and documenting good practices and opportunities for disability inclusion in the aforementioned institutions.

The findings will provide a basis upon which the ZCC can align the ongoing internal reforms towards building an inclusive environment that is fit for all (in terms of infrastructure, services, representation, and participation in various levels of the church’s life).

“Most importantly, the findings will provide academic and policy recommendations towards a systematic and broad-based disability inclusion agenda in key sectors of the society. It will also inform efforts to measure progress in disability inclusion in all key institutions and processes in Zimbabwe.

“Internally, this research will help the ZCC member churches in their internal reforms towards an inclusive, caring, and loving church, fit for all. It will also help member churches to align their theological formation to take disability issues on board.

“The ZCC also seeks to inform and influence nation-building processes in Zimbabwe, primarily through a comprehensive and broad-based national dialogue in which disability inclusion is a major priority. The ZCC believes in self-representation of PWDs and has thus far worked tirelessly to ensure that their voice and issues are heard and addressed during and beyond the COVID-19 era,” said ZCC.

The ZCC also envisages that the research findings will support the advocacy role of the church and inform the representative function of umbrella bodies for organisations for persons with disabilities.

From observations, ZCC indicated that PWDs were relatively more vulnerable than the non-disabled members of society and many of them will be left behind owing to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

From the findings, it has been highlighted that the major setback to the advancement of disability inclusion in Zimbabwe is stigma and discrimination at all levels of society.

“Fifty-nine percent (59%) indicated that stigma and discrimination presented the major setback to their self-determination, followed by dependence on donations or gifts (18%), insensitivity and inaction by policymakers (11%), self-pity (11%), and other factors (1%). Focus Group Discussions(FGDs) with parents of children with disabilities confirmed the crippling effects of stigma and discrimination against PWDs in Zimbabwe, indicating that the church is complicit in the same.”

The study figured out that key sectors of society have not meaningfully transformed their policies and practices to promote disability inclusion.

“The findings suggest that respondents are not satisfied with the extent to which policy makers’ act on the views of persons with disabilities. A participant in a consultation meeting had this to say: “political parties have ignored disability inclusion because they do not have PWDs in their structures and that says a lot about the thinking of public officials with regards to PWDs.

“Additionally, (39%) of respondents indicated that policymakers do act on their views to some extent; 29% indicated they do not act on the views of PWDs at all; 20% were not sure and only 12% thought they do very well act on the views of PWDs. FGD participants across the various categories of participants attributed the inaction by policymakers to the persistent challenge of stigma and discrimination against PWDs in Zimbabwe.”

The research has also shown some worrying contradictions that the majority of citizens admit the possibility of being disabled at any point in life, yet the levels of stigma and discrimination against PWDs remain deep and high.

“The research findings showed that families and friends appreciate and understand disability issues (perceptions, nature, impact and how to support PWDs) to some extent (53%), while a significant proportion of the same understands the issues very well (33%).

“Nine percent (9%) of respondents indicated that they do not understand the issues at all and 5% were not sure. When asked about the accessibility of support for PWDs from a number of actors, respondents stated that families (37.78%), community (17.97%), and friends (17.78%) constitute the most accessible support system. The government scored 16.39%, while the workspace had 6.74% and 3.34% of respondents could not rank any of the availed response actions.”

Pertaining to the potential of anyone being disabled or limited in their capacity at any time of their lifetime, the study found out that amongst the respondents, 88% felt that anyone has the potential of being disabled or limited in their capacity at any time in their lifetime.

“Twelve percent (12%) of the respondents held a contrary view. A contradiction was noted across datasets: that the high level of awareness of the possibility of anyone being disabled has not resulted in a significant positive shift in attitude towards disability issues and PWDs in society.

“Additionally, 66% of the respondents had it that they would seek the understanding and support of their families if they became incapacitated, followed by 30% who indicated they would approach the government and parliament for support while 3% responded that they would not know what to do and 1% could not classify their response. One participant in an FGD with youth with disabilities acknowledged that “families provide the most support to PWDs, but they are often overprotective.”

Most respondents, ZCC indicated, found the country’s laws and policies to be theoretically sensitive to the aspirations and needs of PWDs yet the practice on the ground robs PWDs of their self-esteem and dignity is a cause for concern.

“The levels of agency by Organisations of People with Disabilities remain inadequate owing to the crippling effect of the mutually reinforcing structural limitations on PWDs in our society.”

The research findings also depict Zimbabwe as a country that is deeply fragmented on the basis of ability and disability, and thus points to the imperative for a structured whole-of-society process to foster social cohesion and inclusive national envisioning based on principles of justice, peace, prosperity and unity.

Giving recommendations, ZCC said it was imperative for citizens of Zimbabwe to radically change their attitudes towards disability issues in order to promote a conducive environment for PWDs at all levels of society.

The organisation added that “All sectors should work together to promote the integrity and full functioning of the family institution as a primary provider of care and support for PWDs.

“All sectors of society should promote increased awareness of disability policies and services and develop mechanisms to monitor their implementation.”

ZCC also stressed that all sectors should scale up efforts to promote self-representation of PWDs in all programs and decision-making processes in line with the rights-based approach to disability programming.

“All sectors should conduct physical accessibility audits on existing physical infrastructure and adapt environments where necessary. Additionally, sign language should be embraced in all key local institutions including the police, customary courts, health care centres, church and schools.

“All sectors should strengthen the capacity of umbrella disability organisations and OPDs to mobilise and organise around common agendas. In that regard, all stakeholders should promote nation-building processes that are genuinely inclusive of the aspirations of PWDs.”

Government and civil society have been urged to invest in specific programmes and services for persons with disabilities such as rehabilitation, education, and health care services

In order to ensure sustained societal transformation in terms of disability inclusion, the ZCC said it was committed to spearheading the establishment of a Score Card system and a periodic National Disability Inclusion Survey based on selected key indicators related to processes in key sectors of society.

“It is our hope that the broader church and citizenry and various state and non-state actors as well as development partners will find value in the findings of the survey. The ZCC is committed to working with both state and non-state actors towards a just, peaceful, united, and prosperous society that is fit for all.”—Spiked

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