With just a week and some days until Botswana observes the International Day for Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) there are growing calls for Botswana to eliminate structural, societal, and other barriers that deny people with disabilities equitable access to opportunities and full participation in every facet of life. The disability movement continues to advocate for its ultimate goals of mainstreaming and universal access for people with disabilities. The difficulties they encounter highlight the numerous ways the system falls short of addressing the needs of Batswana with disabilities such as cognitive challenges and severe mental illness.
According to statistics from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 4.5% of Botswana’s population is considered to be disabled. Research also shows that social and economic exclusion, increased rates of poverty, and limited access to information, transit, and public areas are some of the biggest obstacles facing PWD.
Disability activist Phatsimo Moremi argues that we still need to work toward creating a society free from prejudice. “There is a need for in-depth training on recognizing and addressing the needs of PWD. To help fight discrimination and stigma, there is also a need for PWD rights advocacy and awareness campaigns,” says Moremi.
“Over the past few years, people with disabilities have been muzzled by the positivity movement which believes that the only disability is a bad attitude. While this might seem sympathetic, the message they are sending out is that if people with disabilities want to fit in and be accepted in society, then they must adapt and change,” she says.
Botswana is still way behind other countries with regards to promoting the fundamental rights of PWD and awareness on disability issues. Persons with disabilities are considered one of the groups meriting specific attention in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the corresponding Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) make explicit reference to persons with disabilities, including in the context of decent work and economic growth. Sadly, according to recent data and statistics, Botswana’s inclusion of disabled people in the SDGs’ implementation, monitoring, and assessment is still insufficient.
Reports and experience show that people with disabilities in Botswana often face mistreatments in a number of ways and because of various reasons. Clearly, women and children with disabilities are more vulnerable to abuse, including physical and sexual violence as they may not receive sexual education and may be less able to defend themselves against sexual abuse and rape.
The Telegraph met with people with disabilities to gain a more comprehensive understanding of their lives, despite the anaemic and half-hearted awareness of the needs of PWD. While the issue is not about feeling sorry for people with disabilities as they are robust individuals, it’s important to shine greater attention on the implicit bias and overt prejudice that are directed towards people with disabilities.
Eva*, who is living with a disability and has a spinal cord injury, described her daily hardships to this newspaper. She said that, like the lives of other women and girls with disabilities, her life is a constant battle with extremely low points from sunrise to sunset. “Stigma is the biggest obstacle I encounter. Many people are unaware of our situation and believe that being disabled means being cursed, dependent, and powerless,” explains Eva.
She also says misconceptions about work and disability persist. “There are some individuals and businesses who think that employing people with disabilities could result in a loss of productivity and financial loss to a business. Disability inclusion has a favourable effect on corporate performance, which disproves these notions,” she says.
However, a 2018 study by Accenture which examined the relationship between an organization’s financial performance and the proportion of people with disabilities working there disproved such findings. The findings demonstrate that businesses that hire people with disabilities are profitable (in terms of revenues and net income) and value-creating above average (economic profit margin). Additionally, the turnover rate for people with disabilities is 48% lower than it is for people without disabilities. Furthermore, employing people with impairments can cut down general staff turnover by up to 30%.
People with disabilities in Botswana still do not have the same access to job opportunities as their non-disabled counterparts. Many employers have been shown to hold genuine but unfounded beliefs about people with disabilities’ work-related abilities.
*Oaitse, who is visually impaired, says he has difficulty getting around. He claims that getting to certain destinations is difficult, owing to the fact that some places are inaccessible. “Public transportation is either inaccessible, insufficient, or irregular in nature. This includes both public buses and taxis. As a result, people are late for work or their children are late for school,” he says.
Another issue he brought up is a lack of awareness and respect among bus and taxi drivers as well as fellow commuters. “No assistance is provided to ensure that passengers with disabilities board and disembark. Some platforms are also inaccessible,” he says.
Among other concerns, some newly constructed homes do not adhere to standards regarding the needs of people with physical and other disabilities and are not accessible to people with disabilities.
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) is observed annually on December 3 to promote the full and equal participation of people with disabilities and to take action for their inclusion in all aspects of society and development. This year’s theme of the 2022 International Day of Persons with Disabilities is “Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fuelling an accessible and equitable world“.