SABC News - Introducing disability regulations:Thursday 6 October 2011

Introducing disability regulations

Thursday 6 October 2011 16:14

Preview by Jabulane Blose of Disabled People South Africa

From 10-13 October 2011 South Africa will host the 8th World Assembly of the Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI 8th WA) at Durban ICC in KZN. The WA is held every four years and the last two were held in Japan and South Korea. This will be the first time for South Africa and the African continent to host this eminent global disability gathering.

Premised on the theme: “Disability movement united in creating a society for all through the implementation of the UN Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Millennium Development Goals”, the WA features disability rights activists, academics, policy makers and civil society. Hundreds of participants from across the globe will descend to Durban to deliberate, discuss and embed critical issues that confront persons with disabilities and their communities. They will advance purposeful responses and share forward-looking pursuit of the good. This is necessary given that the world’s disability movements represent a milieu of complex yet similar socio-economic problems that demand new ideas and novel approaches.

According to Kenichi Ohmae in The End of the Nation State, when large masses of people join in common purposes, the primary link between them will increasingly be their shared heritage of language, history, tradition and religion. The WA thus symbolises the shared solidarity of world’s 650 million disabled people, their shared common humanity and the ability to focus on a common purpose to strengthen each other’s position as legitimate and respected disability rights movements spanning their diversity across the globe. The World Assembly presents a shared opportunity to put together connected and coherent responses on the state of UNCRPD and MDGs and consensus necessary for effective policy direction.



After the 1990s’ heightened period of developing disability friendly policies and programmes, the government and the disability sector hit the deadlock in a very real sense.

The commitment of our government to address disability mainstreaming is roundly evident but not well documented.  South Africa boasts a number of pro-disability friendly policies and programmes adopted during the heightened period of societal transition of the 1990s.  These were spearheaded in no small measures, by Disabled People South Africa.

These programmes include South Africa’s world acclaimed Constitution that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of disability; the development of White Paper on Integrated National Disability Strategy, 1997; (INDS) the election of disabled activists as Members of Parliament and other structures of government; the adoption of 2% employment equity and 5% skills development targets across the public and private sectors; the creation of Offices on the Status of Disabled People in the Presidency (now the Department of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities) and across Provincial Premiers; the free access to primary health care in public hospitals; and, most importantly, the adoption and ratification in 2007 of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) including the optional protocol.

The UNCRPD is the first comprehensive international human rights treaty of the 21st century that identifies the rights of persons with disabilities and the obligations on governments to promote, protect and ensure that these rights are realised.  The continued denial of disability rights and disabled people being kept on the margins of society necessitated the adoption of a legally binding instrument that sets out legal obligations on governments to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

By signing the Convention, South Africa signalled loud and clear its binding commitment to adopt legislation and administrative measures to promote the rights of persons with disabilities; protect and promote these rights in all policies and programmes; promote training on the rights of the Convention to professionals and staff; and undertake research and development of accessible goods, services and technology and encourage others to do the same.  Almost four years later, the total silence by the government on the Convention is worrisome. The paralysis is accentuated by lack of focus and encroaching regress to welfarism and institutional co-option.  The net effect of this encroachment is the dominance, dependency and vulnerability of the disability sector which poses a threat to very survival of this sector as important voice in a constitutional democracy.

After the 1990s’ heightened period of developing disability friendly policies and programmes, the government and the disability sector hit the deadlock in a very real sense, partly fuelled by the state of policy development paralysis.  The absence of a rigorous disability monitoring that is collaborative and impartial added to the paralysis.  The government and disability sector became institutional collaborators and blurred the lines of institutional accountability.

At a Ministerial meeting to assess progress on the UN plan held in Tokyo in June 2011, the International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, stated that Africa’s chance of attaining MDGs are slim.  It was also reported that studies are predicting that, given the current trends with less than five years towards 2015, Africa is unlikely to achieve every single one of the MDGs.

The common denominator is that MDGs are not disability-specific and though some might argue that disability-specific programmes unwittingly perpetuate the isolation of persons with disabilities and defeat the mainstream approach.  While we understand this, we reject it outright.  The regulatory mechanism, we contend, is a remarkable disability mainstreaming instrument.  This will require an understanding of the disability sector, knowledge of appropriate regulatory interventions to mainstream disability and awareness of the limitations of intended regulations.  The time is right for South Africa to introduce disability legislation in line with the UN Convention as we have dithered with INDS and produced no effective outcomes.

Internationally, disabled people are not faring better either.  A recent report by the Department for Work and Pensions in the UK indicated that over seven million disabled people are being prevented from getting jobs or reaching their full potential by employers and recruitment providers who are imposing a ‘glass ceiling’ upon them.

It would be trite to point out that this sector needs to redefine its approach to ensure the primacy of regulations than perpetually deal with a pervasive ignorance that was wilful rather than innocent.

While the majority of legislations in South Africa are based on the social model of disability, the statistics are grim.  The latest employment equity report puts people with disabilities at 0.83% of the total of employees reported by all employers and are concentrated at the lower occupational levels and more than 60% occupy semi-skilled, unskilled position and temporary positions.  This is at the backdrop of a 2% employment target which has been elusive to attain.  The report concludes that much more needs to be done to increase the representation of people with disabilities.

Jabulane Blose is the CEO of Disabled People South Africa

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