How far have we come? Really.

StatsSA indicated that in 2011, that there were just under 3 million people living with disabilities in South Africa1. With 7.5% of the total population recognised as having a disability, we really should be experts at inclusion, integration and just letting people be people and all getting on with our lives.

Liezel has CP. She also has a job in print media industry. She has a house. She has a car. Another way of putting is, is that Liezel is a person. Liezel grew up in a system that was trying to change itself to acknowledge and include people with disabilities. However, that system seems to have stalled or gotten stuck in second gear somewhere along the way. For all the excellent environmental improvements and wheelchair accessible public spaces, the lack of understanding about disability and discriminating attitude from the average citizen can at times be disheartening and deeply worrying.

Liezel’s parents however, were not ‘average citizens’. Yes, their daughter has CP but no, this doesn’t mean she get treated any differently to her older brother. There was no such word as “cant” in their household when Liezel was growing up, but one phrase she did hear a lot was “find a different way”. Liezel’s parents instilled in her that she could in fact do anything, but to do anything she must first accept who she is, love who she is and be practical and clever about finding a different way to overcome obstacles.

Unfortunately, not everyone looks at people with disabilities the same way. Most people perceive people with disabilities to all be mentally challenged, when for many people it is just the body that’s affected. The thought process is exactly the same as any able bodied person. Liezel recently recounted a time when she went shopping. Someone watched as she parked her car in a designated parking for disabled. Someone watched as she gathered her things and went into the shop. That Someone then took the time to go and find some sticky-notes and a pen. That Someone left 4 notes for Liezel on her car.

“Can’t walk.”

“Can’t drive.”

“Cant talk.”

“Ha Ha Ha”

That Someone dedicated thought, time and actually went out of their way in this narrow-minded act of petty cruelty. It is acts like this, and others, more thoughtless than cruel – such as describing Liezel as ‘a CP’ instead of ‘a person’ – which marginalise and exclude people with disabilities.

On a trip to New Zealand in 1997, Liezel experienced her ideal future for South Africa first-hand. She had a disability – and no-one seemed to care! She was neither congratulated for having a disability and getting around, nor was she stared at, mocked or spoken down to. People just acknowledged her as a normal human being, going about normal human being business.

This is her hope for South Africa, and this is also our hope for South Africa. For it to become a country with such great education, inclusion and support, that a person is no more marginalised for having a disability than people are marginalised for being short or tall.  

1 http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/Report-03-01-59/Report-03-01-592011.pdf

 

Malamulele Diary

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