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Senators fight for rights of the disabled

An accident in a hotel bathtub opened Senator representing people living with disabilities Annah Shiri to the realities of the unfriendly nature of most infrastructures in Zimbabwe to people with disabilities.

BY VENERANDA LANGA

According to Shiri, who lost a leg through a traffic accident more than a decade ago, the accident caused her to sprain her neck.

The MP who lives in the Midlands province has to travel weekly to Harare to attend Senate sittings and during the duration of Parliamentary sittings she is booked at a hotel in Harare.

Shiri, in her capacity as legislator representing people living with disabilities on Thursday introduced a motion on accessibility of social amenities by persons with disabilities.

She said most buildings in Zimbabwe were not accessible to the disabled, making them vulnerable and denying them rights of free movement like other citizens.

Shiri said while the new constitution provided for the rights and privileges of people with physical or mental disabilities, government had been unable to fulfil that mandate or to take measures that ensured that social amenities as well as buildings were accessible to the disabled constituency.

“The amenities in hotels are not user-friendly and I will give an example of what happened to me a few months ago when I had a minor accident in a hotel tub and I ended up spraining my neck,” said Shiri.

“The showers at most hotels are not disability friendly and the tubs do not have proper equipment to support a disabled person.”

According to Shiri, there were only a few institutions in the country that had facilities to cater for persons with disabilities — one of them being the Parliament of Zimbabwe which managed to build ramps to enable people on wheelchairs to go up and down stairs without assistance.

She argued it was imperative for public places such as banks, churches, public libraries, museums, holiday resorts to ensure there was equipment and facilities to assist people living with disabilities to access their services without having to be assisted by able-bodied people.

“Most buildings in the country do not have elevators, and those which have them do not have them serviced resulting in most having last functioned many years ago, making it difficult for people on wheelchairs or crutches to access those places.

“They have no choice and have to access such places with the assistance of their relatives who end up carrying them, which itself is a burden. We also want to be independent and not burden our relatives,” she said.

Schools are some of the places which also needed to be constructed in a disability-friendly manner to ensure children living with disabilities are able to access them, she said.

“Children with disabilities in this country have to go to their own special schools, which in some instances are very expensive and as a result they end up not attaining basic primary education, which is a fundamental right, according to the supreme law of the land.

“It is important that the Government put measures and policies in place to ensure that children with disabilities access the same schools that those without disabilities go to.

“So there is need to put infrastructure and equipment in place to accommodate children with disabilities. There are a few schools in this country that have ramps for wheelchairs, yet it is not something expensive to put in place. This in itself is one step towards embracing those with disabilities.”

She said workplaces should also be accessible to people living with disabilities.

“Workplaces should accommodate persons living with disabilities so that they become independent and not rely on other people to help them out. There should be a clause in the country’s laws to compel companies to incorporate persons with disabilities in their programmes because most of them are highly educated yet they are struggling,” she said.

In her arguments, Shiri said accessibility should also be understood to include sign language and manuals at workplaces, instructions and electronic information, accessibility to persons with visual impairment as well as for persons with intellectual disability.

For example, persons with hearing impairment might miss information pertaining to sounds like fire alarms, whistles or sirens, while people with visual impairment might miss flashing lights and other warning signs.

“All the ministries should ensure that in their planning process, they take into cognisance that there are persons with disabilities who need to be mainstreamed into that planning,” Shiri said.

Another senator representing people living with disabilities, Nyamayabo Mashavakure said the problem with the constitution was that it was crafted by lawyers who themselves did not have disabilities.

Mashavakure is a senator living with visual impairment and is a qualified high school teacher who attained educational qualifications up to Masters’ degree level.

“People that are mentally disturbed have problems and serious challenges when they want to access legal services and they end up being taken advantage of.

Mashavakure said although some people living with disabilities were allocated land during the land distribution programme, there was need to support them with inputs.

“The only people that need to be taken care of by government are the aged or orphans; if people have a disability which enables them to perform chores and empower themselves, a suitable environment should be created to enable them to do that.”

He said other countries had placement officials that were responsible for employment of people living with disabilities and then allocated jobs to them according to their abilities.

“It has been realised that there are some institutions and individuals who do not feel that they can employ people living with disabilities. These placement officers will explain to the employer that this person has this ability, and is able to perform such chores. We are appealing to the government of Zimbabwe to create a post for a placement officer,” Mashavakure said.

Section 22 of the new charter stipulates that all institutions and agencies of government at every level must recognise the rights of persons with physical or mental disabilities, in particular the right to be treated with respect and dignity.

It also stipulates that resources should be made available to them to enable them to achieve their full potential and minimise their disadvantages.

The constitution also stipulates that the state must take appropriate measures to ensure that buildings and amenities to which the public has access are also accessible to persons with disabilities.

However, in as much as the constitution stipulates that people living with disabilities should be supported by government, it also puts conditions that it would be done whenever resources were available.

“In the constitution, when they talk about people living with disabilities, it is said, ‘when the resources are available’. This means that if the resources are not available, people living with disabilities can be ignored but we feel that plans should be put in place so that when funds are available developmental plans for people with disabilities are implemented,” Mashavakure said.

He said social amenities such as public toilets should be kept clean so that whenever people with disabilities wanted to use them, they will not be susceptible to diseases and other unhealthy inconveniences.

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