Accommodation: A right for people with disabilities
When the Ministry of Health and Child Care initiated free cancer screening country wide, Harare was no exception.
Women from all walks of life attended and it was well received, especially during this time when a lot of people cannot afford to visit any medical centres due to steep medical fees. Anything free is welcomed by the majority of people.
One particular site was no exception and just like anyone else, Annie (not her real name) arrived at the centre very early in the morning expecting to receive the service like any other woman.
The room where the screening was being conducted was an ordinary room with testing equipment. Typical of any health care facility, it had some hospital beds which were elevated. One had to climb on a pedestal (stool) in order to have access to the top of the bed so as to lie thereon.
Further, one had to lift one’s legs from the stool to get to the apex of the bed. When it was Anne’s turn, it was the most embarrassing moment of her life since, just like anyone else she was expected to climb on to the bed.
Unfortunately, there was no special provision for her since she is a woman living with disabilities, she has paralysed legs. Her mobility is dependent on wheelchair.
Unfortunately the nursing staff had not anticipated this kind of scenario and as such they were perplexed. Since they had not anticipated this complex situation and before they could think of what course of action to take next, one particular nurse then said ‘so how do we…’
Before she could finish what she intended to say, Annie came in and disrupted her by saying; “I would have loved to have a cervix cancer screen but anyway I can as well have breast cancer screening instead”
Annie’s situation is no different from the majority if not all of people with disabilities. Since they are in this “predicament” for life, they require reasonable accommodation.
The Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) defines reasonable accommodation (also known as reasonable adjustment) as “necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
In essence, it is simply a resource or a measure designed to promote full participation and access and to empower a person to act on his or her own behalf.
The said CRPD compels duty bearers such as employers, providers of goods and services and public authorities to take “reasonable steps to adjust their policies, practices and premises in order to remove the disabling barriers which lie in the path of relevant individual”.
This means that the duty bearers may provide specific equipment, aids or services to enable people with disabilities to access workplace, schools, transport systems or other facilities. This accommodation must enable the individual with disabilities to perform the essential functions as expected by society.
In Anne’s situation, the Government was supposed to provide facilities that would have made it possible for her to access this vital test but she lost out since society did not empathise with her.
In this instance society put up barriers that made Anne not to participate in this life saving exercise. It is therefore clear that Anne was discriminated against by not adjusting the facilities in order for her to participate in the screening test.
According to this concept, instead of requiring Anne to conform to existing norms and in this instance, asking her to “stand up” and climb up on to the bed, it was ideal for the Ministry of Health and Child Care to have brought aids and adaptations, with the aim to develop a concept of equality.
Reasonable accommodation recognises the relevance of disability. Reasonable accommodation, therefore in this instance was supposed to eliminate the barrier that hindered her full and effective participation in this process of cancer screening.
As in this case, service providers and the State usually have on a number of occasions failed to take effective measure to adjust their policies so as to remove barriers for people like Anne.
The Zimbabwe Constitution, under the founding values, recognises the inherent dignity and worth of each human being (Section 3(e). Section 3(f) provides for equality of all human beings.
Section 3(2) (i)(ii) places an obligation on the State and all its institutions and agencies to recognise rights of persons with disabilities.
The Constitution under Section 53 prohibit torture, cruelty, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
Section 56(3) provides that everyone has a right not to be treated in an unfairly discriminatory manner on such grounds as disability among others.
Section 56(4)(a) goes further and elaborates that a person is treated in a discriminatory manner if they are subjected directly or indirectly to a condition, restriction or disability to which other people are not subjected to.
Failure by persons living with disabilities to access accommodation is a discriminatory practice.
The majority of women with disabilities are easily sexually abused especially with our public transportation which does not take into account those who live with disabilities.
More often men have to carry women like Anne into this public transport and in the process they touch their intimate body parts.
The society and Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, in particular, calls on the State to provide reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities and it must enact laws and policies that make it mandatory for institutions and agencies of government at all levels enjoy and or exercise, on an equal basis with others, all human rights and fundamental freedoms as enshrined in our Constitution.