Segregation continues for people with disabilities

The media has been full of reports around the controversial State expropriation of land and potential “land grabs” which are likely to follow.  Our thoughts naturally return to the past that was at the root of this situation – the Implementation of the Group Areas Act (“GAA”).  The Act divided residential areas along racial and ethnic lines, creating separate living areas for Black, Coloured, White and Asian South Africans and was used as a means of separate development of the different racial groupings.


Unfortunately segregation still exists! No this is not a political statement but rather one on human rights!
Think about it… Persons with disabilities have traditionally been told that –

  • they will not be able to return to their home post-disability as they will not able to care for themselves;
  • they must apply for a disability grant as nobody will give them a job; and
  • they should forget about marrying and having a family.


Consequently, persons with disabilities were forced to live together in group homes amongst “people of their own kind”, giving up their right to make decisions for their own life.  They were placed in protected or sheltered employment and given menial tasks of which they were deemed capable, thereby denying them the choice of their own vocation and career path through meaningful employment which would allow them to contribute towards the economy and achieve independence, resulting in securing the means of establishing their own family.


How is this any different from the Apartheid period, besides the fact that it was never put into legislation?


The effect that this removal of persons with disabilities from general society has been damaging – not only to persons with disabilities but to ourselves.  Growing up separately to someone who perhaps looks different to us creates a sense of fear around something we don’t understand.  And that which we don’t understand is deemed “wrong” or “outside the norm”.  Persons with disabilities became disempowered and bought into the thinking that they were “not able”.  As a result, they became less visible in society (frankly, who would want to appear in a society which has made it extremely clear that they don’t want you around?).


Do you see how it works?  The more we perpetuate the separatist thinking around disability, the less we see persons with disabilities, and the less we see them, the more they think they don’t count.


As we all know, the GAA and other discriminatory legislation has since been repealed through the efforts of civil rights groups, protest action and the newly elected government of 1994 who drafted the Constitution, accompanied by the Bill of Rights.  Similarly, the negativity, stigma, victimisation and discrimination against persons with disabilities must end, and thankfully the Bill of Rights is the tool that allows us to do exactly that.  Having said that, legislation doesn’t stop people’s behaviour.


The only way that can change is to change people’s attitudes, the way we think about disability.

Blind man uses cellphone to navigate the city

Let’s talk about disability openly. Let’s include granny who has hearing loss in our family events instead of becoming frustrated because she cannot hear as well as we think she should.  Let’s recognise that the person with a disability that has applied for a position in your company has the necessary knowledge and skills you require in en employee, and with a little reasonable accommodation will be able to become a valued employee.  Let’s use technology to communicate in ways that is open to everyone.  Let’s socialise with the girl in your class who always keeps to herself, so that she feels needed and included – you don’t know what she’s dealing with.

Man with a cochlear implant laughs with his wife

So… what will you do to acknowledge the human rights of persons with disabilities?

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