New dawn for disability empowerment

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

It is estimated that approximately half a million children of school going age with disabilities remain out of school.

This is despite advances noted in the 2011 Disability Report Census, which states that in the education sector, there has been a visible increase in the number of persons with disabilities enrolled in all levels of the education system up to tertiary level.

“This is a huge challenge,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa as he delivered his opening remarks at the Presidential Working Group on Disability, meeting on Tuesday.

The meeting, chaired by President Ramaphosa, will see the Working Group on Disability discuss and propose ideas on how to empower and advance the cause of people with disabilities in the country.

Established in 2014, the Working Group on Disability is tasked with championing and monitoring the work of government departments and society in creating a better life for persons with disability.

The Working Group last met in 2016. President Ramaphosa kicked off the meeting by apologising to the group for failure to meet.

“We have lost valuable time and important opportunities to engage,” he said.

President Ramaphosa said although notable strides had been made in the education sector, with respect to employment, there has been disappointing progress.

In December 2017, employees with disabilities constituted just 1.3% of the workforce of designated employers in both the public and private sector.

Persons with disabilities constituted 0.9% of the public sector workforce, and 1.25% in national government departments.

Gauteng was the only sphere of government to exceed the 2% target, reaching 2.18% by December 2017. 

“We therefore have an important foundation from which to accelerate the pace at which we are changing the lives of persons with disabilities and their families,” said the President.

To ensure implementation, President Ramaphosa turned to the country’s international obligations, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which needs domestication.

The President called on the Working Group participants to advise government on how it can accelerate the domestication process.

Turning to the continent, the President highlighted that a significant recent development on the continent was the adoption of the Africa Disability Protocol by the AU Heads of State in January 2018.

The protocol provides a legal instrument to promote enjoyment of all human rights by all persons with disabilities, and to ensure respect for their inherent dignity.

“Guided by these global and continental agreements, we hope that this Working Group will provide advice on how we also speed up the implementation of the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” said the President.                                                                             

Every organ of State must be reporting substantively on the inclusion of people with disability within their respective mandates.

Following a post State of the Nation Address debate in the National House of Traditional Leadership, the President said the house raised concerns about the provision of facilities and services to persons with disabilities in areas under traditional authority.

In light of this, President Ramaphosa urged the Working Group to heed these concerns and ensure they find expression in the group’s discussions.

Additionally, the President gave the working group a target to ensure that the issues of people with disabilities are effectively mainstreamed across all departments.

“We are committed to ensure that the interests and rights of persons with disabilities are effectively mainstreamed across all departments in the next Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) for 2020-2025, accompanied by an integrated information system to track performance against targets,” said the President. –