The disability sector urgently needs to start speaking and acting with one common voice. In order to further the rights of all persons with disabilities in South Africa, the sector urgently needs to put aside their differences and speak for all disabled people in the country, irrespective of the type of disability the NGO, NPO or individual represents.
This is according to Dr Diane Bell, Director of Academic Affairs at USB Executive Development (USB-ED) and member of the Presidential Working Group on Disability (PWGD), speaking at a symposium of the Higher and Further Education Disability Services Association (HEDSA) recently held at the Spier Wine Estate outside Stellenbosch. She is also an Executive member of HEDSA.
Reporting back on the first inaugural meeting in March this year of the Presidential Working Group, Dr Bell said that it was clear that there is not enough cohesion within the disability sector when dealing with issues at a higher level.
There was however consensus on two issues, the first being a request for the plenary session of the PWGD to meet more frequently, at least three times a year to really drive the disability agenda forward; and secondly that the national Disability Rights Coordination needs to be located within the office of the Presidency and not within the department of Social Development.
The PWGD was established in 2015 to enable the Presidency to champion and monitor the work of government departments and society in creating a better life for persons with disability.
“A shift needs to take place from a protectionist attitude by representatives of the different disabilities in the sector to one where everyone is working for the greater good of all people with a disability in the country,” she said.
Priority issues for sector was nevertheless shortlisted from 17 to 7 at the meeting, which are:
- Development of cross cutting disability legislation
- Development of a Universal Design Access Framework and legislation
- Improving Disability Equitable Socio-Economic Outcomes for persons with disabilities
- Strengthen the representative voice of persons with disabilities
- Subsidisation of NGO’s providing disability-related services
- Assisted decision-making legal framework
- Development of South African sign language and Sign Language Interpreter Services
As keynote speaker, Prof Heléne Combrinck of the North West University highlighted the laws, conventions, policies and white papers on people with disabilities and asked the question if the sector are like to see measurable benefits for disabled students from it?
She said that the duty to provide reasonable accommodation to persons with disabilities in the education sector lies with the government. This is in accordance with the Constitution and the Convention of Rights of People with Disabilities.
The concept of Reasonable Accommodation (RA) is key to the Convention of Rights of People with Disabilities and which South Africa has ratified and are bound to comply with in term of international law.
To answer the question if all these laws and convention will make difference to the lives of students with disabilities, it will have to be tested in court. She argued that the concept of ‘reasonable accommodation’ may be interpreted with reference to provisions in labour law.
Prof Combrinck said that the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA) of 2000, a comprehensive South African anti-discrimination law, is of great importance to the education sector when dealing with students with disabilities.
“We are however not so much concerned about the content of the policies, but it is the implementation of it that matters. These policies have brought about reasonable expectations on the part of students with disabilities and the call now is for implementation,” Prof Combrinck said.