Representatives from the disability sector is full of hope and expectation after its first meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa. The Presidential Working Group on Disability (PWGD) constitutes 41 members from the disability sector to represent a diverse and all-inclusive voice. Prior to this meeting, it had only met once since its inception in 2016.
Its mandate is to advise the president and his ministry on strategic, focused programmes that enhance the development of people with disability to ensure their equal citizenship. Its members had despaired that it was an ineffective, defunct agency that existed on paper only until they received a call from President Ramaphosa to meet.
The PWGD caucused before their scheduled meeting with the president and drew up six submissions for his urgent attention. These included:
Relocation of the PWGD to the office of the president
There was strong consensus by all disability organisations that the sector should be afforded focused attention by all departments and levels of government. This repositioning would advance the development of people with disability and remove its dehumanising “welfare status” in its current location in Social Development.
Sign language an official South African language
The PWGD called for South African sign language to be adopted as the 12th official language of South Africa.
Fast-track UN conventions
The group highlighted the need to fast-track the domestication and implementation of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and all other regulations and policies relating to people with disability. While there was an acknowledgement that The White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disability is a guiding document for mainstreaming disability, it has not been legislated and therefore no policy exists that specifically protects the rights of people with disability.
Focused attention on quality education and economic empowerment
There was a call for the professional development of all educators, an inclusive accessible curriculum, and access to information and communication in multiple formats (Braille, alternative augmented communication, captions on visual formats, audio descriptions and alternative reading methods).
The building of inclusive education centres was seen as an imperative and the immediate prioritisation and recruitment of the high number of out-of-school learners. Historically, these are children with high support needs and compounded marginalisation. The establishment of a technical task team that specifically addresses economic empowerment issues was seen as an imperative.
Addressing violence against people with disabilities
The final submission dealt with the alarmingly high number of incidences of violence, abuse and murder of people with disability and their lack of justice. Some of the recommendations was to make the justice system more accessible to people with disability and the development of secure, resourced care centres with vetted, skilled personnel.
The response from the president and the ministers in attendance was overwhelmingly positive. Ramaphosa recognised the urgency of the needs of the sector and emphasised its rallying slogan: “Nothing about us, without us”.
He promised to consider all submissions and committed to include and mainstream people with disability at all levels of government. The sector felt that their concerns were taken seriously for the first time and that their submissions would be prioritised and actioned.