Disability sector demands inclusion amid Coronavirus pandemic

Professor Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize, the deputy minister of the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities of South Africa, addresses the disability sector in a webinar.

On Friday, May 22, the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, in partnership with national disability organisations and the Presidential Working Group on Disability, held a webinar to discuss some of the challenges facing people with disabilities during the national lockdown and global Coronavirus pandemic. Speakers included various government officials, representatives in the disability sector, and researchers.

While the government highlighted its continued work to ensure it supported people with disabilities, the disability sector very articulately shared experience, studies, and surveys that reiterated how the government was not doing enough.

Among other things, the sector highlighted the need for greater support – both financial and emotional. People with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty. During the webinar, the disability community highlighted how a disability grant was not enough to support many. They called for poor people with disabilities to be included in relief efforts such as the handing out of food parcels.

There was also a call to include business owners with disabilities in relief efforts and for more to be done post lockdown to ensure people with disabilities are included in the economy.

The disability sector also requested better emotional support as many people with disabilities were separated or isolated from friends and family at this time. Some of the presenters highlighted the need for the government to check in with residents at care facilities to ensure their safety and quality of life while the family is unable to visit.

Most prominent was the industry’s call for a disability Act to protect the rights of people with disabilities. The Act – the sector argued – would hold government and society accountable when people with disabilities are neglected.

Looks Matoto from the Disabled People of South Africa (DPSA) compared the response to the pandemic with a crashed flight.

“The response to the pandemic was a scramble to safety. Everyone rushed to safety but forgot about the people with disabilities. The only people who will come to their rescue is the crew. Who is the crew member, in our instance, who will come to their help? That crew member would have been an Act.”

Although there was an opportunity for questions and answers towards the end of the webinar, technical difficulties resulted in government officials closing the session without any concrete answers or a response to questions. Instead, the industry was promised a report on the session.

For more information on the webinar, be sure to read our Quarantine edition, which will be free to access for all.

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