Yes we can…

A BBC advert that promoted the 2016 Paralympics contained an inspiring message about the capabilities of all participating athletes.

The stars of the Paralympics in Rio did not disappoint. All of us observers were wowed by superb performances by many talented athletes from all over the world and the South African delegation did the country proud by accumulating 17 medals.

The Paralympics were well attended by enthusiastic spectators and were watched on TV by millions of people around the world. But it should not only be at the time of the Paralympics that the public is fascinated by the achievements of people with disabilities. Ideally, there should be a constant flow of information about how they go about living their lives like everyone else in society. However, this is not yet an ideal world: there are still various barriers that people with disabilities face when trying to navigate their way through life.

But we now have the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (WPRPD), which is a tool for removing these barriers. The WPRPD is intended to accelerate transformation and redress with regard to full inclusion, integration and equality for persons with disabilities. This piece of legislation in the making is a step in the right direction and it shows that the government cares about all its citizens.

Controversy remains, though. Finnish researcher Teppo Kröger has written: “Disability researchers have criticised the concept of care as well as the research based on this concept for infantilising disabled people and showing them as protected passive dependants unable to make decisions about their own life. It is further argued that the concept of care locates power with the caregiver and promotes patronising attitudes towards the recipients of care, who become portrayed as a burden.” But this should not be because this thinking in itself is an attitudinal barrier which also needs to be broken down.

He adds: “Disability studies have gone on to examine the various ways in which the different ‘disabling barriers’ of society limit the life of disabled people. In addition to physical and attitudinal barriers, the discriminatory and disempowering practices of the current labour market and care service systems have become highlighted as major barriers.”

The vision of the WPRPD, which is “a free and just society inclusive of all persons with disabilities as equal citizens”, means that all policies and legislation, across all spheres of government and of every socio-economic sector, directly impacts on the lives of persons with disabilities. Thus, all policies and legislation that affect the lives of persons with disabilities will have to be reviewed.

This tool places people with disabilities in a situation where there is very little that prevents us from participating in everyday life. So the catchy tune of the advert was relevant not only for the Paralympics in Rio; it now carries hope for doing better in Tokyo in 2020 and every day in every way. Yes, we can participate; yes, we can enjoy life on an equal footing with everyone else. To watch the advert go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTjdpG8HL2o.


Raven Benny is the chairperson of QASA. He has been a C5, 6 and 7 quadriplegic since 2000. He is married with five children, is mad about wheelchair rugby and represented South Africa in 2003 and 2005. He also plays for Maties. email: rbenny@pgwc.gov.za

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