No Support from SA Disability Oranizations for Students’ Protest for Education

First Published on my Facebook Account:

M5tB_TEU

[Black and white drawing of a fist raised in a power salute. Words “Fees Must Fall” is written across the wrist.]

Day 8 –
South Africa’s ‪#‎Disability‬ Sector continues to remain silent on the current‪ #‎FeesMustFall‬ Movement while many students with disabilities are on the front lines risking lives. Students with physical and invisible disabilities are literally gathering with ambulant peers to blockade entrances to campus; they are being threatened by violent and racist motorists accelerating into crowds. Where is the support? Where is the statement condemning the police violence that erupted yesterday at Parliament?

[Martin Luther King photographed in black and white, gazing leftward with quote: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.]

Earlier this year Equal Education released a report on Gauteng Schools and found this:
“The audit found that there is a mass exclusion of students with disabilities. There is almost no provision
for blind students. Only one in every four schools have bathrooms that can accommodate wheelchairs.
This is a serious problem as many students with disabilities are not attending school because their
needs are not accommodated. ” – Equal Education Report

This is only for Gauteng, the financial hub of the South African economy. How, with this situation, are students with disabilities able to reach tertiary educational level? And if they do, many “specialised” schools for students with disabilities are NOT even given codes for university or college application forms.

The Disability Sector in South Africa is very quick to preach economic‪#‎inclusion‬ and ‪#‎equality‬ BUT are disinterested in the crucial role of accessible, quality, and inclusive education to achieve this. The disability movement in this country is selling out future generations with offensive oppressive ‪#‎inspirationporn‬ tactics to deal with single identity issues (instead of acknowledging the racism, classism and gender struggles as intersecting and valid) while no real mobilization and sustainable organizing is occurring to pressure policy and implementation reform. No more will our bodies and struggles be used as marketing/CSI campaigns to justify our humanity to non-disabled people. We are worth more.

[Photo of Steve Biko artistically edited to be black and white with red background with a quote: “If people want to be our friends they must act as friends, with deeds” ]

The youth of 2015 are educating YOU, South African Disability Alliance and your partners on how to build human rights movements that challenge the status quo from the ground and practice real inclusion and you remain silent. Shame on you!

Continue reading

International Day of Disability

JustinDart4-300x205Today – the 3rd of December –  is the International Day of Disability as sanctioned by the UN. This is meant to be a day for nations and all sectors of society to spread messages of acceptance and empowerment regarding people with disabilities.

Over one billion people, or approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population, live with some form of disability and are considered the world’s largest minority group. Governments and various organisations/stakeholders are encouraged today to take a “firm stance” against the true disabling barriers of stigma, inaccessibility and social prejudice. The promotion and protection of the rights of people with disabilities is supposed to be advocated.

That’s great, right? Of course it is, assuming that’s what happened when lovely, shiny, politically correct sentiments were translated into action. Sadly, like most things, as truly dumb humans we stuff it up royally. We opt for the glitzy superficial press opportunities to deal with “the issues” and swiftly move onto the next day of [some marginalised group we have no interest in actively engaging with on a respectful person to person level].

I deliberately use the term “we” because despite government and particularly the Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities in South Africa being the driving force behind initiatives on this special Day, we as South African citizens are also to blame for allowing this tokenism nonsense to continue.

Most importantly, we as South Africans WITH disabilities are allowing governmental organisations and the “charitable” mainstream public to “represent” and “speak on behalf of” and “raise awareness for” us in ways that not only perpetuate and nurture stigma and shame, but also are discriminatory and infringe on our basic right to dignity. This is particularly the case when kids with disabilities are involved or the focus of a campaign. Suddenly we forget that these little ones deserve respect too.

How is this being done? Well, in many ways, but mostly by the people in various positions of power often excluding or limiting engagement with people who have actually experienced life with a disability. The constant barrage of stereotype-saturated media and society’s construction of “normal” or “beautiful” or “healthy” is another contributing factor. “Disabled” immediately inspires thoughts of wheelchair users or people “incapable” of independence and with no real agency (the capacity of a person or living entity to act in the world) of their own.The stigma of disability has conditioned society to believe that we don’t need to engage with “the disabled” as they all (because, lucky us, we all get lumped together in a neat box) need to be looked after like children; thus mainstream society/doctors/social workers/carers etc know their needs best.

We’ve all been brainwashed into that “ag shame” way of thinking to such a degree that even in 2012 we have amazingly successful people with disabilities still being asked in interviews how they go to the toilet or if their condition prevents them from doing “normal” things.  What the hell is up with this and what is “normal” anyway? Why do we worship these constructed, discriminatory ideals so?

The sad reality is that many people born with disabilities, internalise that prejudice, stigma and social shame from early on and start believing that their physical condition or impairment makes them worthless, undeserving of love and respect or shameful to others. This internalisation is mostly subtle, but it considerably affects their identity formation, sense of self-worth and thus the way they tackle life and their connections with others.

In the UK, a study has shown that statistics of abuse and violence against women double in women with disabilities; that one in two women will experience abuse from a partner, carer, educator or family member in their lifetime. I can only imagine – or mostly try not to – the reality of such in a South African context with most of our women citizens with disabilities living in poor, rural areas.

So are the major “awareness” campaigns centred around empowering South African women with disabilities in the face of such violence and abusive realities? Seeing as the 3rd of December falls into the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children (25 Nov – 10 Dec) one would hope so.

Nope, the National Council of People with Physical Disabilities in South Africa (NCPPDSA) has been a peach and decided to raise “awareness” (see here why I loathe that word in this previous blog post) with their nationwide NAPPY RUN. While I am not denying the dire need for nappies (dypers) SOME kids with disabilities have, I am furious that this was the great media initiative a disability rights advocacy umbrella organisation decided to go with.

Firstly not all kids with disabilities have the same needs. This campaign blatantly sides with the outdated medical model of looking at disability – that people/kids with disabilities should seen/considered/treated according to their impairment and physical need instead of respected as people first. By taking this approach, what the NCPPDSA is actually doing is playing into the stigma and prejudice surrounding disability and fostering these discriminatory attitudes that are the true disabling barriers for us. It also does nothing for the empowerment of kids and people with disabilities. There is no encouragement of people – and especially kids with disabilities – to take a stance for themselves and advocate for their own rights. It’s assumed we can’t. This is the biggest mistake made by mainstream society, but also by ourselves as people with disabilities.

What truly gobsmacks me is that a reputable advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Golden Planes production company together with DSTV and TopTV decided to donate a clearly discriminatory advertisement and airplay for the NCPPDSA’s Nappy Run Campaign supposedly worth R3 million. Please see how the advert (linked above) has no person or kid with a disability in it and it’s of a virile, white, abled-bodied (yeah I hate that term too) male getting ready to run. At the end we see him running out wearing a giant nappy. Where’s the empowering message? Where’s the representation? This is like a Gucci advertisement met Leon Schuster’s writing team, gawd damn’it. Um yeah, Loerie and Vuka Award winning stuff.  Why didn’t the ad company and DSTV/TopTV just donate the R3 million if they cared so much about Disability Rights, but didn’t see the NEED to feature “the disabled” on their screens?

I know at least 5 specialised schools in Gauteng alone that have had to close their doors this year owing to lack of funds. Often kids travel from poorer communities far and wide to attend these institutions. While some are best suited to parallel education and specialised teaching, others children are often there as they are blatantly excluded from mainstream education. Last month I read that the Gauteng Department of Basic Education had cut teaching posts in specialised schools for 2013. The ratio of teacher to students would now be 1:44. This is an outrage since the proposed cut for mainstream schools in the province is only to 1:33. Since most specialised schools offer specialised curriculum or teaching methods and some students need more attention and care, it would follow logic that there is higher ratio of teacher to student. This sentiment is not shared apparently and in the process, South Africa is DISABLING many young minds and spirits.

With all this negativity masked and disguised by one glitzy, shiny Day of Disability, one finds it wonderful and uplifting to read about Prinshof School goer Adeife Adeniranthe, a 12 year old girl with a sight impairment, who wrote and published a book. The novel is published in both print and Braille thanks to international publishers.

Now, here’s the thing, there are many feisty young kids with impairments, like Adeife, who are seizing their right to advocate for their own rights and the rights of others. These are the voices we need to promote and empower, not mainstream society’s condescension and prejudice. The first step to this is challenging attitudes and stigma and ensuring access to quality, inclusive education for ALL children.

Education is the arch nemesis of discrimination and oppression.

So Happy Disabilty Day, may promoting the rights of all those othered by society be on your minds EVERY DAY.

Our Voices Will Not Be Stifled

The war on women and girl children is waged daily. Senseless, inexplicable violence is used to silence progressive voices who have the courage to want and promote equality; equality that sees the empowerment of women through education, labour rights protection, proper access to medical care and other methods of true inclusion. The voices of those on the front lines of change cannot and will not be silenced until equality is achieved. We will bear witness to their courage, we will stand in solidarity and use our own ways and means to achieve change within our lives and communities. We will stand together.

On the Controversial Topic of “Forgiveness”

It’s been a chaotic, tragic week accounting for more violent acts and clashes stemming from gross human rights violations. Some South African and international events we had to cope with this week: the reaction to radical political action at LGBTI Joburg Pride last Saturday (see previous blog post here), the shooting of Pakistani child activist Malala Yousafzai on Tuesday and the preventable number of deaths occurring during recent strike action in South Africa are just examples of three.

Amidst all of this chaos, I read a piece of writing on forgiveness on allthingsqueer.co.za that quotes Catherine Ponder as saying:

“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person by an emotional link that is stronger than steel.

Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link, and get free”

While I agree with the author  to a point, I disagree that we can dissolve the link entirely. Some of us can try to lessen the emotional load that usually comes with coping with past traumas. So this is, like everything else in the world, quite a personal choice that an individual makes. I don’t agree with people telling you how you should live or behave or how you should deal with emotional trauma. This is because another person cannot experience of process traumatic experiences or events like you do. Also, not all trauma can and should be forgiven, in my opinion, nor does the person/thing who inflicted the trauma be allowed back into our lives (not even if we choose to deal and come to terms with what they did to us).

That all said, my story has led me down an interesting road. I’ve always held on to hurt, guarded it like a secret and nurtured it while supposedly still “moving forward”. Deep down the rage bubbled. It reached a point, as time went on on, when it was physically and emotionally causing me distress and destroying my relationships with those close to me; sabotaging new ones. In recent years, I’ve seen the difference working through old baggage – letting some of it go – has had on my life and I feel so grateful to all those people who stuck out the process with me. You see, it’s a far more complicated process than the above article lets on.

Based on my experiences and thoughts on why it had helped, I found the process (should you want and choose to start it) works well when one is in relatively safe, stable and supportive environments where the constant threat of similar infractions and trauma reoccurring isn’t present. It makes the most sense that we would then have the true freedom to make the choice of  how to best move forward for ourselves.

This often isn’t the case for those experiencing society’s multiple levels of oppression all at once, those lacking the privilege of some to be able to rationalise their emotional trauma/pain. Often people are expected or told to “move on”, to “stop living in the past”; “stop pulling the [x,y,z] card”. That’s a quite an arrogant, disrespectful assumption in itself and only further deepens the hurt, making it less likely for the desired change to happen.

Perhaps it has to be recognised first, that most of us humans need acknowledgement on a very basic level; acknowledgement of our lives, of our memories, of the paths we’ve travelled and of our emotional scars. This is needed to build trust in our connections and in our ourselves. This acknowledgement doesn’t come from words or documents written, but in micro-actions conveying a kindness and respect for the other person or groups of people. It’s in the very language we use daily.

In a book, called Soul Prints by Marc Gafni, he maps out my beliefs about this pretty practically with some situational contexts. I ignorantly passed over the book on my shelf for years after I received it as a gift. I have strong feelings of disdain for the exploited “self-help” genre or its incestuous “religiously themed” cousin, you see. To me, “Soul Prints” sold itself at face value as such. I was wrong for the most part. But I digress.

When there is unkindness, acts and words that “other” people, a dismissal/violation (on a macro or micro level) of us and the very experiences that have shaped us, of our very “soul identities” in Gafni’s definition, we get hurt to our core. The pain we feel often manifests in different ways – loneliness, depression, anxiety, aggression, violence, self-victimization and inflicting abuse on others are all a few common examples. These all affect the way we wade through our lives and interact with people.

For these reasons, these macro and micro repeat offences on our “soul prints”, so to speak, we find it truly difficult to simply “let go”, to “move forward”. Some of us have every single right to freely choose not to forgive. Some of us succeed initially in lightening our emotional load only to fall off the wagon every now and then, when similar acts trigger reactions from us we cannot unlearn immediately; or sometimes ever. And that’s OK. It’s also part of the process find what works for us and the different, often bumpy paths we travel to find peace.

Our awareness of why we react the way we do, from what places and perspectives, helps in preventing us from hurting others in retaliation to our own hurt; prevents us from subconsciously spreading the damage in our close relationships and interactions with new people. On paper, like most things, it’s easier said than done. We have to want to face our own failures too. That’s the toughest part.

While I Boycotted an Unjust System

While I blogged about my reasons for NOT supporting commercialised LGBTI events, masking themselves as advocates for the rights of ALL/all blanketed under the rather restrictive classification, people I respect a great deal were subjects to violent acts and abuse in full view of national and international media and police officials. This because they chose to use direct political action after years of failed dialogue behind closed doors. Dialogue that at times in my involvement in the NGO sector, I have been privy; prejudice and lack of interest in working constructively for the rights of the most vulnerable in the sector that has been around for years before this protest. Context is everything and while there can be constructive criticism of both sides, what cannot be disputed, in my opinion, is that the organisers’ response to the action (one that has been used before with peaceful outcomes), in Saturday’s event context setting, was disproportionate, fuelled by prejudice and completely unjust.

Is it, really?
*Lekker = Afrikaans word for: nice, great, wonderful etc

For those of you who haven’t read or see anything on the matter, here is video footage (both edited and unedited) and a number of articles that show (with as much effort as flawed human beings can) arguments from both sides of the conflict, as well as opinions from outside of these binaries.  Feel free to disagree with me, to form your own opinions of the actual incident and engage constructively by commenting or by using this as a springboard to spark conversations in your social circles. When we stop discussion, we give prejudice permission to continue in our society as a whole.

Now, every one of us is biased in some way or another because of our life experiences and social conditioning that has cultivated certain beliefs and attitudes and prejudices. To say we are addressing/debating/speaking about something objectively, no matter the lack of connection to any parties directly affected by a certain incident, would be telling an great untruth. No one is truly objective or can present an objective view. We can try, but we’ll never achieve this 100%. What we, as flawed human beings, can – and should do – is back our arguments up with firm logic and fact based on hard evidence and personal experience, instead of pandering to our own prejudices and social loyalties. Sometimes I find this difficult just as anyone else. So this blog post is by no means intended to lecture readers of it from a place of imagined superiority.

After a week of not touching sides because of the chaos that ensued after last Saturday (in the media, on social networks and in spaces of dialogue etc), I now prefer to acknowledge what has been – we cannot change what has happened – and keep looking forward. I do this not because I want to forget or because I am not still deeply enraged and emotional by what it has exposed in the light, but because of self preservation. I do this to keep my flailing hope for our compassion for fellow human beings alive. I want to believe we can change and address all the injustice in a constructive positive manner, no matter how long it takes. How I’m coping with this is by talking and questioning, by engaging, but most importantly by listening and observing.

This is in an effort to find ways of contributing, of finding ways to use mediation, devise methods of how to prevent this from happening again and strategizing new tactics of engaging with people who do not or choose not to see things outside of the box-like parameters they’ve always been told/”conditioned” to support. Things need to be done differently now in the present, momentum needs to be kept up to affect the future. This is why I prefer to discuss broad issues that were raised in this blatant example of the underestimation of the class and race issues that underpin South as a country in separate posts. Right now, I’m giving the context of my thoughts and observations and beliefs that inspire the next couple of posts and more importantly, give some idea why I believe the things I do and write about it accordingly.

Historical Background to the South African LGBTI rights movement (and also the birth of Joburg Pride) in an apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa.

Please see my last blog post for a brief historical background of the LGBTI rights movement in South Africa and the birth of Joburg Pride in 1990, pre-Constitutional South Africa.

What is the 1-in-9 Campaign?

VISION

The One in Nine Campaign works for social justice in a society where the sexual rights of women are respected upheld and advanced.

MISSION

The One In Nine Campaign works with organizations and institutions involved in HIV/AIDS, violence against women, women’s rights, human rights, and lesbian, gay and bisexual activism to ensure that the issue of the sexual rights of all women is addressed through

– Building solidarity

– Feminist Knowledge Production

– Media

– Justice and Legal transformation

– Direct action

See more on their website.

Description of the protest action at Joburg Pride:

Daily Maverick Article – http://dailymaverick.co.za/article/2012-10-09-joburg-pride-a-tale-of-two-cities
Member of the public Captures protest and violent attack of a 1-in-9 activist by a Joburg Pride parade marshall. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ObVX1alomA&feature=share

Edited footage explaining the context and aims of the protest.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzBTRu_oVF4&feature=youtu.be

Raw Uncut footage supporting claims of racism and physical violence directed towards 1-in-9 Protesters.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzBTRu_oVF4&feature=youtu.be

Second edited video posted to Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ugK3yazLwQ&feature=plcp
Joburg Pride Board Official Responses to the protest:

1. Initial Press Statement – http://joburgpride.org/2012/10/joburg-pride-response-to-one-in-nine-protest/

2. Secondary Press Statement – 12 Oct 2012 – after continued, unwavering public criticism in national and international media. http://joburgpride.org/2012/10/joburg-pride-board-responds-to-false-accusations/

3. The first Radio interview on a local talk radio station, 702, after the incident hosted by Redi Tlhabi. – 8th Oct 2012 – http://soundcloud.com/mantedieng-mantis-mamabolo/joburgpride-vs-1-in-9

Some Public Responses/Analyses and Observations of the incident:

“Gay Shame” – South African expat’s blog post – http://africasacountry.com/2012/10/10/gay-shame/
“No cause to celebrate a racist Pride” – Gillian Schutte – Mail & Guardian opinion piece – http://mg.co.za/article/2012-10-12-00-no-cause-to-celebrate-a-racist-pride

“Gay Shame: Why I identify as queer” – identity politics-based reflection on Joburg Pride protest. http://www.allthingsqueer.co.za/archives/47/351.html#.UHPh3zy_RRc.twitter

Gay Pride IS Political – Mail & Guardian Thought Leader post by Dipika Nath

Pride? For what? For whom?

On the morning of Joburg Pride 2012: “Protect Your Rights”, I thought a post necessary.

So Joburg Pride? How? What? Where? When?

Simon Nkoli

“The Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW) was formed in Johannesburg in 1988 by a group of black gay and lesbian activists. The person elected to chair the organisation was SIMON TSEKO NKOLI, who had already gained political prominence as an ANC Activist and Delmas treason trialist. At the time GLOW was the only South African gay and lesbian organisation with a predominately black membership. GLOW gained public attention by ensuring a gay and lesbian presence in the 1989 wave of political activism and demonstrations campaigning for democracy and the unbanning of the liberation movements….

Johannesburg’s first gay pride parade through the streets of Hillbrow in October 1990 was marked by people wearing paper bags over their heads (Photo: Shaun de Waal)

In 1990 GLOW was involved in organising South Africa’s first Gay and Lesbian Joburg Pride March in Johannesburg. GLOW campaigned for gay and lesbian rights in the media, including television and print, and tried to stimulate debate.”- GALA Archives

Conveniently these political roots of SA queer history have been OMITTED on the Joburg Pride official website. This is one part due to white middle-class privilege and the commercialisation of anything “pink”, one part prejudice and one part political agenda.

Re-writing/altering history will never benefit the progression of the LGBTI rights movement and it certainly will never benefit the queer South African youth who search for role models and meaning. Young folks searching for that place to feel safe – a place to belong – are finding a space where there is clear racial and economic segregation in its most insidious form. How is this progress?

Know your history, question your present. Are we doing enough as LGBTI folk in South Africa to really be proud? What would our predecessors say about us having 3 SEPARATE Prides in one city OR not heeding the call to take a firm enough stance on labour issues and the education crisis in this post-Marikana climate?

Joburg queers have been up in arms recently over a corporate sponsorship deal gone south. Well folks, Jacaranda FM pulling out as a sponsor to the Joburg Pride “party” today should be the least of the “community’s” concerns.

If we need something to celebrate, let’s celebrate our return to the core values Simon and his comrades had in mind for our community.

 #Letskeepitinperspective

Dissing Issues & Stigma of Disability

I wrote an opinion piece for Women24.com (below). To continue the discussion, I’m keen to hear how journos/and non-journos think London 2012 Paralympics – especially British broadcasting – has played a role in changing the way people reflect on issues of disability. Do you view disability differently because of it?

Wheelchair Day an Insult and Disappointment

With the Paralympics in full swing, receiving far more media attention and public support than ever before, the topic of disability is talk of the town.

So when I heard about The Airport Companies South Africa (ACSA) Disability and Special Needs Expo and Conference (6-8 September 2012) on a popular radio station, of course I was intrigued. After some research, I noticed it was the first time I had heard about it in its eight years of existence.

For the Expo’s radio marketing campaign called “Wheelchair Day”, DJs were to spend a day in a wheelchair to better understand what it’s like to be disabled. They were then to communicate their experiences and “raise awareness”.

While listening closely, intrigue soon fell away to utter disappointment. What was clear was that the organisers (McNaughton & Associates Marketing Firm), like many South Africans still find it difficult to understand that the stigma of disability seeps and spreads into our daily lives, without us knowing it.

Essentially the DJs became marketing tools with a great deal of power and influence on their listenership’s opinions surrounding people with disabilities. Unfortunately the campaign was poorly developed with a lazy and unoriginal brief.

Very little background knowledge was communicated about the actual details of the expo or issues linked to disability as a whole.Instead, focus was on how hard the DJs found the experience; thus how much better their understanding now was.

Awareness shouldn’t come at a price

Few people were told that the Disability and Special needs Expo had been consumed by a larger, more profitable in outcome, “Retirement Expo”. This subtly and offensively portrays South African’s with impairments in the same frame of reference as frail, vulnerable elderly folk. If lack of finances were the reason for this, as I was told, and inclusion was the goal why are exhibitors and vendors having to fork out R 1 500 – R1750 per square metre for stall space? Also bothersome is that the cost of a two day conference for the general public (non-NGO) is R 6270 per person.

Exploiting a good cause

If this Conference and Disability Expo was genuinely concerned with inclusion, accessibility to technology and promoting the rights of South Africans with disabilities, it would not be trying to exploit the very people it is supposed to be empowering.

Surely the nearly ten governmental and non-governmental partner organisations realise this too?

I seized the opportunity as a springboard to speak out about this when listeners were asked to phone in and comment and again later on Twitter. As a proud South African woman born with a muscle condition affecting my mobility, one could say that my 25 years of tackling the mainstream stereotypes and narrow-mindedness gives me a bit of “street cred” on the matter.

I’ve wrestled with people on an intellectual level and used humour as a tool to bash down expectations and prejudice my entire life. I attempted to do the same when addressing this Expo business. One of the arguments I received from a DJ’s fan was that “disabled people did not need to reflect on [or communicate] what it is like to be disabled”. Clearly I didn’t get that memo.

Many people may disagree and frown upon my critique. After all, “disabled people could be denied an expo entirely”. Well that’s not a strong argument and just doesn’t cut it as an excuse in 2012, I’m afraid.

No one should be told they’re lucky to be acknowledged or even considered by mainstream society. It’s offensive and ignorant. What is highlighted here, though, is a great flaw in how many South Africans continue to fail their friends, family and colleagues who have any sort of impairment.

Many still find it difficult and sometimes absurd to grasp that the stigma surrounding disability is ingrained into our daily lives and subconscious choices.

With disability still being handled like a taboo hot potato, further damage to the equality movement is being done.The majority of South Africans with disabilities are barely surviving on social grants and countless specialised schools have closed during this year alone because of outstanding subsidies.

Most children with disabilities in South Africa never receive the proper medical care and with the daily violence and abuse faced by many people with disabilities, who on earth are the organisers expecting to attend the event? Certainly not those who need it most.

“Raising awareness” is a start when done properly, but doesn’t always mean “good” is being done for a cause. When strategically and cleverly planned with the proper research and experience, it is undoubtedly an excellent method for advocating change. On the other hand it can be a window-dressing term, used when little effort to tackle real issues is intended.

Here’s food for thought.

Why was an accomplished, award-winning and well-known person with a disability not interviewed or included in the radio campaign for the expo? Andy Scott, Chaeli Mycroft and Masingita Masunga are just a few people I can name off the top of my head. The latter two are actually speaking at the ACSA Disability Expo. Why were these “experts” and role-models sidelined? Surely this would have strengthened the cause and attracted more support instead of merely raising praise for a rather superficial effort.

To put it simply: no one was really interested in tackling the real issues.

“Wheelchair Day” trivialised many people’s daily experiences and ignored those who do not have physical impairments. It is arrogant and ignorant to reduce the vast array of different impairments out there or the existence of a person with a disability to the narrow experience of being in a wheelchair all day.

The organisers, McNaughton & Associates Marketing Firm, should have known better or at least cared enough to engage with South Africans with disabilities in a less patronising and more inclusive way. It can be said that a great deal of power to spread prejudice and misunderstanding surrounding disability or combat these, rests with broadcasting media. One can only look at the LGBTI Rights Movement to see how media has assisted greatly in fighting stereotypes and stigma.

Getting it right

I most certainly think that we need to reassess the ways in which we view and speak about disability. Had the cause been gender related and men asked to dress as women in order to better understand their daily experiences of abuse and oppression, wouldn’t gender rights activists be justifiably outraged at a publicity stunt that trivialises experiences of women?

Examples of us not progressing in the disability rights movement can be seen not only in this poor marketing campaign and response to criticism, but in our medical and education institution failures.

It’s also evident in the lack of therapeutic and social support for children with impairments and their families. It is visible in many companies’ reluctance to employ candidates with impairments despite clear BBEE and labour legislation and in their fabrication of “fake employees”.

It is how we scold children for staring at someone and not explain extensively how people are different, but just the same as them. It’s in the very language we use daily.

Everyone loves stories of over-coming barriers and quickly grabs hold of these amazing people, places them on a pedestal and then expects them to be constant sources of positivity and inspiration to others. Truth is, you see, no one likes a person with a disability who complains. It distorts society’s expectations.

Us folk with disabilities are expected to accept charitable offerings from society, say “please” and “thank you” and then shut up. Should we choose to not work around the system quietly, rebel and voice our opposing views, then we’re pessimistic and offensive. You see, by voicing our opinions assertively, it forces people without disabilities to engage directly on a person to person level. It also means acknowledging prejudice and dealing with it. No one likes to do that!

As South Africans, we need to feel outraged that women with disabilities are statistically the most at-risk sector of society in terms of enduring abuse and sexual violence and yet little is done to empower and protect them. We need to face the reality that is public transport inaccessibility, the lacking number of good therapy programmes available to children and the violence faced by those dependant on disability grants.

Creating the right awareness

We then need to flood our television programs and radio shows – to inspire and educate – with news of the wonderful efforts and successes of non-profit organisations like The Chaeli Campaign. More attention needs to be given, not to understanding what it feels like to have a disability, but to the people who are succeeding in fighting for equality.

The Centre for Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) and The Nkanyezi Stimulation Centre in Soweto are other examples of ordinary people on the frontlines of change.

Constant preference should be shown to messages that state assertively that having an impairment by no means disables a person. What truly “disables” us are the barriers of inaccessibility, stigma and public attitudes.

Sadly the truth is that mainstream South African society still has a problem with shedding the “ag shame” response to disability issues. It’s been deeply ingrained in us and we need to rid ourselves of it and FAST.

Goals should be not only assisting people with impairments to empower themselves, but to do it in the least patronising and intrusive manner possible. I’ve come across wonderfully kind people in my life who still failed to understand that they could not speak for people with disabilities (or any other marginalised group they proclaimed to help, for that matter). Not even parents, relatives and caregivers have the right to take away a person’s – even a child’s – complete agency.

All South Africans have a right to be treated not as an invalid or charity case, but as a fellow human being.

If we’re willing to truly discuss issues of disability (like other oppressive systems: racism, classism, sexism etc) in a less superficial manner, we’d find it easier to stop feeling sorry for people who perhaps do not want or need your sympathy and work on finding sustainable solutions.