‘It’s differently-abled, not disabled’

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SHE is a young woman.
She is a Harare Polytechnic College-trained beautician.
She has braved it all, from delicate bones as a young child, to discrimination at the workplace.
Shingirai Govat aged 25 was born with a condition osteogenesis imperfecta (OI). She says it is imperative for society to have a positive attitude towards people living with challenges.
“I trained as a beautician at Harare Polytechnic after completing Ordinary Level. I got a job at a local hair salon. I could not stand the pressure and attitude of co-workers and some clients who were reluctant to let me do their facials and nails,” said Govat.
She hoped, people living with disabilities would have more support from Government, so that they embark on self-sustaining projects since most of them are living in poverty due to lack of financial streams.
Osteogenesis Imperfecta also known as ‘brittle bone disease’, is a group of genetic disorders that mainly affect the bones.
It results in bones breaking easily, and the severity may be mild, to severe.
Other symptoms may include a blue tinge to the whites of the eye, stunted height, loose joints, hearing loss, breathing and teeth problems.
Complications may include cervical artery dissection and aortic dissection.
There is no cure for OI. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by exercising and avoiding smoking can help prevent fractures.
Treatment may include care of broken bones, pain medication, physical therapy, braces or wheelchairs and surgery.
A type of surgery that puts metal rods through long bones may be done to strengthen them.
And, as the world celebrated the World Day of People Living with Disabilities on December 3, some argue the word should not be ‘disabled’ but ‘differently-abled’.
Disability could be the outcome of an impairment which may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental, or some combination of these, or rarely due to a predominance of special abilities.
A disability may be present from birth, or occur during a person’s lifetime.
For Govat, her condition was severe in the early years as she was affected by any slight harm to her.
As a child, she could not run around like most of the children who would just cry and wipe off the dust from their clothes and body.
Govat would end up in hospital as her bones were brittle.
The doctors told her she would be like this for the better part of her childhood. Her bones would become stronger as she grew, however, she would remain stunted.
Due to her condition and her small network, Govat has never be in a relationship with any man.
“I would also like to get married and have my family one day by the grace of God. I do not mix and mingle with many people. I hope more information can be availed so that there are more support groups for networking,” she said.
The Zimbabwean Constitution recognises and provides for the protection and rights of all people, despite their differences and circumstances.
It recognises the inherent worth and dignity of all persons, including vulnerable people, such as the disabled.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that approximately one million Zimbabweans live with some form of disability.
The Constitution and the Disabled Persons Act Chapter 17:01 provide for the rights, welfare and rehabilitation of disabled persons.
The Act provides for the appointment of a director for Disabled Persons’ Affairs and the establishment of a National Disability Board under the auspices of the Ministry of Public Service and Social Welfare.
In addition, there are two special representatives for disabled persons who sit in the Senate.
The major challenges, among others, that disabled persons face relate to accessing fair education and employment opportunities.
A 2014 study by the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped reported that only two percent of people with disabilities are employed in the public sector.
Eight percent are self-employed, while 29 percent are involved in subsistence farming activities.
Disabled people are found in the low salaried jobs if they are lucky to find employment. Costs of employing disabled people tend to cause potential employers to shy from recruiting them. There are indeed extra costs needed to cater for the unique needs of disabled people in the workplace.
Miriam Tose Majome, a lawyer and teacher notes, that the law prohibits denying disabled persons’ access to public premises, services and amenities.
“Disabled persons are not to be denied access or admission into any premises where members of the public are ordinarily allowed,” writes Majome.
“The country’s public transport system is notoriously unfriendly and unsuitable for disabled peoples’ needs.
“In some instances, wheelchairs are regarded and charged separately as luggage.”
Majome notes that denial of access, or of any service, is only permissible if it is done for the safety of the disabled person and not for any other reason.
Aggrieved disabled people, who are discriminated against in any manner, have a right to sue and claim damages.
Even at the workplace, the administration of wages, salaries, pensions, accommodation, leave, allowances or benefits should always be fair.
Sensitivity is to be paid to the provision of suitable amenities such as bathrooms, modified work stations and equipment. Such considerations include access ramps, wider doorways and hallways for people who use wheelchairs.
There is need to provide appropriate reading materials for visually-impaired workers or for those with hearing impairments.
It is estimated that there are high numbers of disabled children, who do not attend school at all, due to lack of special facilities from the earliest primary school grades to secondary school.

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