Namibia works to level the field for persons with disabilities

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By Annines Angula

Windhoek - Namibians living with disabilities have said they face daily discrimination and barriers that restrict them from meaningful participation in society on an equal basis.

They are denied the rights to be included in the general schooling system, to employment, to live independently in the community, to move freely, to vote, to participate in sport and cultural activities, to enjoy social protection, to access justice, to proper medical care and to into legal commitments such as buying and selling property.

These are sentiments raised by Daniel Trum, the chairperson the National Federation of People with Disabilities in Namibia in Windhoek on Tuesday. Despite revolutionary changes in global approach to close the protection gap and ensure that people with disabilities enjoy the same standards of equality, rights and dignity as everyone else, those in Namibia still face many challenges.

Speaking at the National Disability Stakeholders Workshop, Trum told how people with disabilities are struggling with accessibility. Trum, who is visually impaired, spoke about shops he cannot get into because of steep steps or raised doorframes, as well as difficulty accessing public transport.

“People with disabilities do not ever want to rely on disability grants anymore. We want opportunities that will enable us to develop this country like other people with no disabilities. We are not involved in any country’s decision-making because all people think we cannot because we are disabled,” he said.

Trum’s sentiment has been echoed by other people with disabilities, including Moses Nghipandulwa, the Executive Director of the Namibia Federation of the Visually Impaired (NFVI).

Nghipandulwa stressed that people living with disabilities are continually discriminated; some have been locked away from society because their families are ashamed of them. He said many do not have proper accommodation, although they still receive the disability social grant from the government.

Nghipandulwa said the lack of equipment and facilities for the visually impaired places a huge burden on the training programmes that are mostly aimed to equip visually impaired people with skills.

Hendrina Takondjo Namonde (49) has been partially blind since 1975. Her disability started when she got sick at the age of eight. She is suffering from corneal opacity, which occurs when the cornea becomes scarred by injury or infection and blocks light from entering the eye, resulting in blindness.

Namonde supplements her R1,000 monthly disability grant by begging in Windhoek’s city centre and selling compact discs of her music. She is also a budding singer, having released three albums.

“On some days, I go home with R200 depending on what is in the pockets of the Good Samaritans. I would normally go to a shop alone and people will think I will not be buying anything because they think I cannot see the prices on my own. Most of them say bad words to me and I just keep on walking,” she said. 

Society still looks down on her whenever she goes to offices looking for jobs, she said. “I can work. Even at receptions, I can answer calls. I think the government should bring up workshops just to see that we, the blind, can also be useful.”

Trum also encouraged fellow Namibians to level the ground for everybody to receive the same benefits from both private and public sectors.

Jeremiah Theophillus (36), who works at the NFVI, also shared that being visually impaired has been a challenge as people “will look down on you and think that you are not capable”.

Theophillus is a law graduate from the University of Namibia. He was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome in October 2005, a reaction that then caused his blindness just a few years after he enrolled with the International University Management in Walvis Bay. 

 According to the Namibia Statistics Agency’s Inter-Censal Demographic Survey of 2016, there are 108,992 people with disabilities in the country, representing 5% of the total population. However, the World Health Organisation and World Bank believe the figure could be much higher since the majority of people with disabilities live in rural areas where it is hard to access services.

Representatives from government, the United Nations, civil society organisations, organisations of persons with disabilities and academics are meeting in Windhoek for a four-day workshop to identify progressive strategies towards the removal of barriers and obstacles that negatively impact on the lives of people with disabilities in Namibia.

The workshop was held under the theme “Understanding the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Strategies for effective disability mainstreaming in Namibia”.

It further sought to ensure the full implementation of the landmark global treaty, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the Optional Protocol of 2007.

Alexia Manombe-Ncube, Namibia’s Deputy Minister of Disability Affairs, said during the opening of the meeting that despite challenges, there is political will in Namibia to address issues of disabilities, as evidenced by her appointment to Parliament and her subsequent appointment to head the disability portfolio.

“All these demonstrate that, as a country, Namibia has made sure that issues of disability are on the national agenda and it does enjoy national priority status but challenges remain,” said the deputy minister.

Although Namibia has made progress in levelling the playing field by recognising and acknowledging the rights of persons with disabilities, the country still lags behind in areas of inclusive development of people living with disabilities and the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said Agnes Tjongarero, the Deputy Minister of Sport, Youth and National Service.

“The workshop signifies that there are bottlenecks in the implementation process of the convention at local, regional and national levels,” Tjongarero said during the opening of the workshop.

Since independence in 1990, Namibia has showcased some best practices in terms of policy and practices to improve the lives of persons with disabilities and promote the enjoyment of human rights on an equal basis by persons with disabilities

However, notable gaps remain, and persons with disabilities remain visible among those who experience adverse socio-economic outcomes.

These gaps reflect the level of discrimination, which stems from multiple sources, including inadequate legislative and policy implementation, ignorance, prejudice and cultural norms, which in turn lead to stigma and entrenched social exclusion.

The participation of persons with disabilities is further limited by lack of access to the physical environment and to information and communication as well as lack of training for teachers, health care workers and other service providers.

“The changing global development landscape offers a significant opportunity for mainstreaming disability and propelling the progressive removal of barriers and obstacles which impact on the lives and conditions of Persons with Disabilities,” said UN Resident Coordinator Rachel Odede. 

“Disability does not equate to inability. Therefore, in order for us to create a truly inclusive society that leaves no person behind, active involvement of persons with disabilities is vital – and this starts with ensuring that social, cultural and economic barriers for them are removed,” she said.

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