Empowerment remains a dream

There is still a long way to go before people with disabilities are empowered.

The term “empowerment” refers to measures designed to increase the degree of autonomy and self-determination in people and communities. As an action, empowerment refers to both the process of self-empowerment and the professional support, enabling people to overcome their sense of powerlessness and instead to recognise and use their resources.

With growing unemployment and ongoing financial challenges, people with disabilities find it ever harder to become self-reliant and completely independent.

We cannot talk about empowerment, especially in relation to persons with disabilities, without looking at the challenges and obstacles that they face on a daily basis. Nearly everyone faces hardships and difficulties at one stage or another, but for persons with disabilities, these barriers can be more frequent and have greater impact.

These include an inaccessible physical environment, the lack of relevant assistive technologies (assistive, adaptable and rehabilitative devices), negative attitudes and less user-friendly services.

I came to realise after acquiring my disability that my freedom to be the person I was became instantly limited. I was faced with new barriers that I would need to overcome. Not everyone is aware, for example, that the difficulties in getting to or into a place can severely limit a person with a disability from participating in everyday life.

While the Constitution remains of great help and guidance, society in general still has a long way to go to remove ignorance and embrace positive change. Many people with disabilities are qualified and have the required skills to take up senior management positions in companies, for example.

Yet people’s perceptions have a way of standing in their way of progress. I think that people tend to forget that no one is immune to disability; anyone can acquire a disability in a split second.

Persons with disabilities are capable of having a beautiful life, a more self-reliant and fruitful life. What we need is for the society, the business space and our government to embrace us by removing the barriers that continue to make society inaccessible to persons with disabilities.


Emilie Olifant is a disability activist, entrepreneur and motivational speaker. She is the director of the Emilie Olifant Foundation, an organisation that strives to address socio-economic issues experienced by people with disabilities. email: emilie.olifant@gmail.com

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