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HST Blog

Nov 08
Diversity includes Disability: Disability rights awareness

By Siyabonga Gema, HST Communications Officer


Each year from 3 November to 3 December, South Africa celebrates National Disability Rights Awareness Month, with 3 December being the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, also celebrated as National Disability Rights Awareness Day. The theme: A Day for All, reflects a growing understanding that disability is part of the human condition, and represents a call to society to recognise that people with disabilities are equal citizens who should enjoy all basic human rights. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) defines persons with disabilities to include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis.

Statistics South Africa released a report that provides statistical evidence relating to the prevalence of disability and characteristics of people with disabilities at both individual and household levels in South Africa. The report indicated that the national disability prevalence rate is 7,5% in South Africa. Disability is more prevalent among females compared to males (8,3% and 6,5% respectively). Persons with disabilities increase with age. More than half (53,2%) of persons aged 85+ reported having a disability. According to the report, households headed by persons with disabilities have less access to basic services compared to households headed by persons without disabilities. Taking into consideration the inequality gap in South Africa, the disparities extend further in underprivileged communities.

According to the Human Rights Commission of South Africa (SAHRC), people with disabilities may face the following challenges in accessing their rights:

  • Social barriers such as lack of awareness on the different types of disabilities amongst society, which results in lack of acceptance of persons with disabilities within communities; negative attitudes resulting from ignorance, misunderstanding and prejudice which keeps society from appreciating and experiencing the full potential persons with disabilities can achieve.

  • Psychological barriers which are mainly informed by fears for their personal safety.
  • Structural barriers such as accessibility to facilities and infrastructure, the lack of support services or technology, the lack of availability of information in accessible formats and the lack of reasonable accommodation in schools and work places.

In recognising these and other prevalent challenges, the South African government has taken steps to ensure that the rights of people living with disabilities are upheld and protected as enshrined in the Constitution. Section 9 of the Constitution provides that everyone is equal before the law and has equal protection and benefit of the law. It further states that no person, including the State and private companies may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly on one or more grounds against any person on one or more grounds including race, gender, colour, age or disability.

Legislative measures to improve the lives of persons with disabilities such as The White Paper on Rights of People Living with Disabilities that was adopted by the South African Government in 2015, and the Employment Equity Act - which prohibits unfair discrimination against employees on the grounds of disability or illness - are part of a commitment by the State to protect the rights of disabled people in all sectors of society, including in the workplace. In a bid to further promote equal opportunities for all disabled people, the Disability Rights Charter of South Africa; a document which asserts the right of all disabled people to live independently in a safe environment and in a society free from all forms of discrimination, exploitation and abuse was adopted in South Africa.

Society has an important role to play in ensuring that everyone, including people living with disabilities are treated equally, and continue to have equal opportunity to participate in the continued growth and upliftment of the country. A wide range of information is readily available to the public in order to educate themselves on issues relating to the protection of the rights of people living with disabilities.

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