By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK THE vast majority of people living with disabilities in Africa have always been poor, powerless, and degraded. Needless to mention, people living with disabilities have been seen as inferior to the non-disabled. Not so different from other countries on the continent, people living with disabilities in Namibia are faced with similar challenges and have once again appealed to the Namibian society to accept them and grant them access to essential services that would improve their lives. At a joyous commemoration event of the International Day for People Living with Disabilities that took place on Saturday, Fredeline Beukes, a matron at the Khomasdal School of the Visually Impaired told New Era that society seems to be insensitive to the needs of people living with disabilities. Although she was born with poor sight, Beukes undoubtedly stated that there are many things that the disabled can do to contribute to the economic development of the country. “I started working as a matron in 1997. I deal with visually impaired children from seven years to 21 and at the moment I am taking care of 13 of them. At first it was difficult for me to do my work, but with determination I have shown many that we are able though at times we might need some special equipment. All I can ask society is to be a bit more patient with us and at the end of the day we can achieve the goal,” she appealed. Though they could be faced with different physical disabilities, Beukes reminds the Namibian people “there is nothing wrong with our minds”. As it has been from time immemorial, people living with disabilities have been denied access to education and other essentials such as employment. In this independent Namibia, she says to the employers “give us our rights and equal opportunities and send us for further studies so that we can also improve academically”. Presently, the matron is studying for a Junior Teaching Course at the Institute of Open Learning. “I want to inspire children who might be visually impaired or might have other disabilities. I want to leave behind footprints where children can follow suit and we will prove to the world that we are able people too,” stated the spirited woman. Based on the Namibian National Census results of 2001, there are 85 567 people with disabilities. Gender-wise, 43 966 are female and 41 601 are male. Omusati, Kavango and Ohangwena regions were identified as the largest concentrated areas with people living with disabilities. In his address during the commemoration of the International Day for People with Disabilities, Minister of Health and Social Services Richard Kamwi acknowledged the fact that people living with disabilities face challenges that force them to remain cloistered in their immediate environment. These challenges range from lack of access to education and training, employment opportunities, health services, sport, financial support and assertive devices, among others. According to Kamwi, this situation has been worsened by society’s negative attitude influenced by ignorance on ability, skills and the potential that these people have. Commemorated under the theme, ‘Rights of People with Disabilities: Action in Development’, the minister pointed out that the Namibian Government has put in place policies aimed at creating an enabling environment and society for all. Just last year, the Government adopted the National Disability Council Act that creates a legal framework for achieving full participation and equality for people with disabilities. As a custodian of the Division of Rehabilitation, Kamwi pledged to continue taking the plight of these people with disabilities seriously. “My ministry will ensure that the strategic objectives set by this division are achieved. These include (among others) empowerment of people with disabilities through creating positive attitudes, functional skills and capacity to work and have meaningful lives.” In the same manner, Kamwi encouraged people living with disabilities to continue advocating for their human rights and to ensure that they promote what the reality is: Disability does not mean inability. As society still stands as a silent spectator while the disabled are left to find their own ways to survive, the City of Windhoek and Shoprite were over the weekend awarded trophies and certificates as companies in the private sector which have made considerable efforts in employing people with disabilities. The Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement equally received trophies representing the public sector. The four stakeholders have operated in line with the Employment Action Act No. 55 of 1998 whose aim is to protect people with disabilities and other unfair disadvantaged groups against unfair discrimination at the workplace. The International Day of People with Disabilities was declared in 1992 by the United Nations General Assembly to promote awareness of disability issues. The day unites disability organisations, people with disabilities, businesses and communities in celebrating the achievements of people with disabilities.
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