Society continues to isolate disabled people

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Alvine Kapitako

Windhoek-The Deputy Minister of Disability Affairs in the Presidency, Alexia Manombe-Ncube, is concerned that despite positive legislative framework many people with disabilities are still disempowered and isolated from society.

Manombe-Ncube spoke at the opening of the disability stakeholders consultative workshop yesterday at the University of Namibia (Unam).

“As an advocate for disability inclusion it is my view that we can no longer allow people with disabilities to be excluded and discriminated against through various forms of barriers,” noted Manombe-Ncube.

Unam has seen an increase in the student intake of people with disabilities. This year 81 students with disabilities are studying at the institution of higher learning.

The Faculty of Education has the highest number with 24 students having disabilities. The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences has 20 students, the Faculty of Law has 10 students and the Faculty of Science has five students.

The Faculty of Health Sciences has two students, the Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Science has five students and the Centre for Open, Distance and E-learning has eight students with disabilities.

Professor Lazarus Hangula, the vice-chancellor of Unam, said at the same occasion that Unam’s history of inclusive education started with baby steps at the time of the institution’s establishment as a comprehensive national university.

“In some aspects we have succeeded in creating an environment where the majority of our students, staff and visitors feel embraced and supported and enabled to reach their maximum potential, irrespective of their diverse characteristics,” said Hangula.

“However, when we reflect and listen to narratives of our students, former and current, we realize that although we have started the inclusive education journey, we have not yet reached our destination, especially with regard to students, staff and visitors with disabilities.

“Our history of including persons with disabilities dates back to 2003 when two students with severe sensory impairments, one blind and one deaf, arrived at our registration table. Upon realising that they could barely communicate with these students, our registration officials considered not to register them as we had no resources whatsoever to meet the needs of these students. We decided to give it a try, and the rest is history,” reflected Hangula.

He added: “It is these two pioneers of inclusion that prompted the Faculty of Education to appoint mentors to the two students, who guided the students through their studies, read books onto tapes and served as mediators between these students and their lecturers. The Unam Disability Unit was then formed to upscale our services as more and more students with severe impairments and disabilities started to join the university.”

Manombe-Ncube pointed out that disability was seen as a vulnerability and those affected by it were seen as ‘dependent for life’ in the past. This, she said, created stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities.

“People with disabilities were left to [be cared for] and education and employment were rarely thought of as part of their life paths.”

Manombe-Ncube said that people with disabilities were barely accorded dignified access to healthcare, education, service delivery, sport and recreation.

And, if there was public transport available for people with disabilities, it was channeled through welfare organisations, said the deputy minister.

“This approach created a dependency which disempowered and isolated people with disabilities from the mainstream of society.”

She commended Unam for its inclusive education.
Meanwhile, Nampa reported yesterday that the number of people living with disabilities in Namibia has increased from over 42,000 in 1991 to about 100,000 in 2011. The figures are contained in the National Housing Census, which shows that the Khomas Region has the highest number with disabilities at 45 percent, followed by Erongo at 33.1 percent.

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