Failure to streamline the issue of disability in development and policy formulation has exercabated stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities to the extent that a large number of people who see themselves as normal on account of their being free from any obvious deformities, are generally uncomfortable around people with known disabilities
Marianne Schulze, a Human Rights Consultant based in the Hague has said this in an interview, adding that consequently there is a lot of anxiety around engaging people with disabilities.
The interview followed the recent National Disability Legal Framework Consultative Conference(NDLFC) hosted by the University of Botswana(UB) at the instance of the United Nations Development Programme(UNDP) and Office of the President(OP) in partnership with the National Council for People With Disabilities and other stakeholders as well.
“None disabled people most of the time suffer lots of insecurities and are uncomfortable around people with disabiliies as they see “fragility” all over in addition to the notion that people with disabilities do not have a life worth living so they would therefore not want to make things any worse off for them,”argued Schulze.
Largely, this fear of doing the wrong thing which many “normal” people seem to suffer whenever they have to be around people with disabilities, stems from the mistaken thinking that disability neccessarily implies the presence of some medical condition which require corrective intervention rather than indicative of the diverse nature of human species and limitations.
To confirm this alleged fear, Maleshwane Mauco ,President of Autism Botswana, cited incidences in which parents of some kids at known nursery schools where children with autism attend had lodged complaints and that their own children were at the risk of catching autism , as if its an infection simply because they had seen them whilst at school or at home imitating the children with autism.
“Yet its normal for small kids to imitate others but it usually doesn’t take long before they get on with them without even showing their awareness of it. But worst of all we also know of teachers who are scared of children with autism so much when you see it you definitely will feel for them because they really dont know about the condition and or even about most other disabilities in general,” contended Mauco.
This fear pervades a broad spectrum of spheres; be it at home, school, work and church alike.
Mauco argues that in Botswana the issue is compounded by a wrong mindset that attributes disabilities to unfortunate circumstances that probably befell either the person with disability or their parents. One of the things that would improve outcomes in public education and sensitization is to motivate the affected and their families to go out there rather than keep indoor, and interact with society so the public recognizes that if its a problem then its much bigger than could just be shelved aside.
All initiatives at demystifying disability must be prefaced according to the Human Rights Consultant,by the realization that the focus is no longer on what is wrong with the person. Instead disability is recognized as the consequence of the interraction of the individual with an environment that does not accommodate the individual’s differences and rather limits or impedes the individual’s participation in society.
It this approach that is referred to as the social model of disability and is the one endorsed by the UN which further takes it forward by explicitly recognizing disability as a human rights issue.
The old model on the other hand subscribes to the handing over of the lives of people with disabilities to professionals who control “on their behalf” such fundamental decisions as where they will go to school,what support they will receive and where they will live. Part of the thinking that fed into this model is one that sees people with disabilities as a homogenious and probably limping lot who are incapable of almost everything.
Based on that, disability is construed as pointing to a level of severity of impairment on the basis of which it can readily be decided how much respect and autonomy can be allowed. Consequently society and authorities are missing out seeing the best in people with disablities.