21 May 2008

Zimbabwe: Being Disabled

IT IS during the morning rush hour. Motorists are eager to reach their workplaces in time. But alas, an ugly traffic jam has occurred along Jason Moyo Avenue in Bulawayo.

Surprisingly, there is neither a sign of a road mishap nor a breakdown. Horns are continuously blurring at a man in a wheelchair in front of the traffic.

Determined to show that there is no alternative but to share the road with them, Caleb Moyo, a former freedom fighter moved his wheelchair slowly to the frustration of the impatient motorists.

"I wanted to instil in their minds, the plight people with disabilities face in this country. Like any other Zimbabwean, I am entitled to use the road, but no provision has been made for people who use wheelchairs," he said in an interview with the Zimbabwe Guardian.

Moyo recalls a painful experience he encountered a couple of years ago at Compensation House in Harare.

People with disabilities had gone to see a senior Government official and the only access to his office was through steep uneven stairs.

"I bluntly refused to be bundled up the stairs. Instead the meeting was held in one of the offices at the ground floor," he says. The state of Zimbabwe's physical environment, especially in towns and cities clearly shows that people with disabilities were not thought of when the planning for most buildings was done.

"The problem lies with the policymakers. In fact, as far as I am concerned, they do not know we exist. It is funny that after 28 years of Independence, the problem of people with disabilities is still being addressed as if it's something new," he said. Moyo said in the end people with disabilities are not able to contribute to the development of the country because the "system does not accommodate us".

Thousands who, either by nature or accident find themselves living with a disability, share Moyo's dilemma.

For instance, wheelchair bound persons cannot make it into most shops and banks. If by chance they go through uneven pavements and steep stairs, they would still be helpless once inside. They are alone, whatever they may want from the shelves.

At work places most facilities are provided taking into consideration only those who are both physically and mentally abled. 'Normal' people for example, find it so hard to give directions to someone on a wheelchair, help a visually impaired person on crutches to get onto bus, taxi, airplane and train.

The former President of the National Council of the Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe (NCDPZ) Alexander Phiri said the Disabled Persons Act lacks appropriate clauses to seriously address the plight of disabled persons.

"There is lack of commitment on the part of those who are supposed to provide resources to make the act powerful," he said.

Phiri said there is need for more disabled members of parliament to represent them in the August house.

"We have got more than 1.3 million disabled persons in this country but surprisingly disabled persons were only represented by one person in the senate during the previous parliament," he said.

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