Equal playing fields

Two events of national importance may seem very different, but there are similiarities

The first is the municipal elections, which took place on August 3; and the other is the 2016 Rio Olympics, followed by the Paralympics. These events might not appear to have much in common, but they both involve ways of ensuring the participation of people with disabilities.

For the municipal elections, a special registration process was set up to enable the participation of everyone who wished to vote. Everyone who registered for the special vote was visited at home to cast their vote – and the candidates we voted for should be those who are in touch with the needs of the people in their municipal area.

The rights of people with a disability are guaranteed in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons (UNCRPD) , which states that: “Parties shall guarantee to persons with disabilities political rights and the opportunity to enjoy them on an equal basis with others, and shall undertake … to ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others, directly or through freely chosen representatives, including the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote…”

With regards to the Olympic Games, various athletes representing South Africa will go to Rio de Janeiro and compete against the best athletes in the world. Two weeks after the Olympic Games it’ll be the turn of athletes with a physical disability to compete at the same venues, share the same accommodation, use the same transport system and, hopefully, be successful in their events. Why, you may wonder, are these events not combined? I believe it is because people with a disability have different needs to those athletes with no disability. Yes, the facilities and support services will be of the same need, but the specified equipment, rules and regulations need to be different for persons with a disability, to ensure equality of opportunity. With this in mind I wish the South African Paralympic team well with their preparation and for the competition in Brazil, and trust they will make us all proud.

The UNCRPD states that, with a view to enabling persons with disabilities to participate on an equal basis with others in recreational, leisure and sporting activities, appropriate measures must be taken “to encourage and promote the participation, to the fullest extent possible, of persons with disabilities in mainstream sporting activities at all levels; to ensure that persons with disabilities have an opportunity to organise, develop and participate in disability-specific sporting and recreational activities and, to this end, encourage the provision, on an equal basis with others, of appropriate instruction, training and resources; to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to sporting, recreational and tourism venues”.

It’s been instructive to view these two events in the light of the UNCRPD principles, which encourage our participation and remind us that we all have duties to our country – and to ourselves to exercise our rights in society.

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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