‘Govt sensitive to plight of disabled’ Mr Jonathan Banda . . . “When something (like a building) is being designed let it be designed for all. Be it children, be it older persons, be it persons with disabilities”

CC: Mr Banda, there is this Leonard Cheshire situation where residents, some of them people with disabilities, were evicted from this place of residence. What is the ministry’s take on it and how has the ministry moved to deal with what is happening?

JB: The ministry’s take, being a Government department or a line ministry, is always informed by the mandate. In this particular case, the principal Act that deals with issues of persons with disabilities is the Disabled Persons Act Chapter 17.01.

Within it there is a provision for the formation of a representative body called the National Dis- ability Board for which the ministry is the Secretariat. It provides the implementation capacity for whatever policy reviews, reassessments and information.

Within 5.6 of that particular Act, it talks about encouragement and securing rehabilitation of persons with disabilities within their communities and social environment.

On the global scale, we will be looking at the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities one of whose principal provisions in Article 19 talks about the right of persons with disabilities to enjoy life like everybody else, participate and enjoy activities at an equal level.

They need to break down barriers to the enjoyment of these activities at an equal level within the community. This is very key in that it is a facilitator or enabler for the enjoyment of other fundamental rights for persons with disabilities.

You could be talking about the right to liberty and security or Article 26 which talks about rehabilitation. All these things are not possible in the event of persons with disabilities being confined or restricted to an institution all setting without the mindset to fully integrate them within the community.

So really the ministry supports alternative care or arrangements. But at the same time there is no way we could be supporting confining persons with disabilities or stripping them of their rights.

Institution by definitions means rules and regulation. Now imagine you as an adult have rules imposed on you such as a curfew that says you’re supposed to be home by 6pm. Do you think if we do that to a person with a disability we will be treating that person or according them the same respect that is accorded to other persons whom some of you in society would call without disabilities even though there is nothing like that?

So what we have done and our position as a ministry is we are supposed to provide safety nets to vulnerable groups or where there is vulnerability risk or deprivation. We provide safety nets for all these groups.

In the wake of the November 23, 2016 Constitutional Court ruling we actually moved in to try and provide that safety net so that we wouldn’t find persons with disabilities homeless, we wouldn’t find them on the streets as we find today.

Initially, we talked to the organisation to give them a reprieve after having conducted meetings with the residents for which the topmost request was three months’ reprieve. We communicated that to the organisation and that then expired on March 3.

In the meantime, we were trying to engage to see how best we could promote independence. Take away the helplessness and hopelessness that could have been endemic of the institutional set-up.

So this $800 the organisation consented to give out to the residents, first as a loan and the residents then said they didn’t want it as a loan; they wanted it as a grant. We communicated again to the organisation and they still stand ready to provide that particular money.

By the same token, we as Government stand ready to provide alternative accommodation for the residents at Ruwa National Rehabilitation Centre.

We have procured the full rations for the particular period that they should be there while we are doing our assessments and trying to trace their families for purposes of reunification or to trying to see ways or best practice in terms of integrating them within the wider community.

CC: Have they communicated why they are reluctant to take the $800 or the relocation and have you found ways in which you can come to a consensus between yourself as the ministry and these residents?

JB: The best way around coming to a consensus can only be after we have been allowed to conduct individual assessments. Our mandate is emanating from the Social Welfare Assistance Act, Chapter 17.06.

We are supposed to provide basic welfare assistance or social assistance but this is only possible after due assessment of the means of the particular person who will then become the rights holder or beneficiary to this particular assistance.

However, the challenge has always been really getting on the ground to come up with the exact figure of how many people are at the institution or where at the institution.

From the court documents that we had been dealing with at first, within the Supreme Court it was eight respondents, and then within the Constitutional Court it was seven appellants. So to come up with the exact figure of how many people there are, the residents haven’t accorded us that opportunity.

But we still stand ready to assess the particular needs, and the context and profile of vulnerability for these residents for us to move forward.

We have been trying via a lot of stakeholders to get this consent to then conduct the individual assessment of the residents but so far there have been a few challenges.

I still stand and remain positive that we should be able to come up with a breakthrough around our deliberations. On Thursday I heard at least two of the residents had visited our district office with the intention of being assessed to benefit from the assistance that Government should be able to provide.

CC: Moving towards the wider context of people with disabilities living in Zimbabwe, what are some of the major challenges these people face in the country and how is the ministry working to address these challenges?

JB: The biggest challenge is always accessibility. Accessibility which then leads to discrimination. Discrimination perhaps starting from a context of language.

If you look at the nominal classes within which people or beings belong, try now to compare that within the nominal class or the language class that persons with disabilities have traditionally been placed in.

You start with mu, va, mu, mi, ri, ma, ni, chi. For mu this is where the start is, it’s munhu, but for one with a disability people have always come with this animalistic or objectification sort of idea to say chirema.

This is the start of the problems. After not treating persons with disabilities at an equal level this then puts or plugs in the barriers for their participation in various activities and community development activities.

How have we been trying to counter this vice, it has been through our awareness raising efforts. We have been doing this through public celebration days like May Day. We make sure we carry pamphlets that have detail with the intention of trying to demystify a lot of things surrounding disability.

We have our own international days, like the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, we have an International Day for Children with Down’s Syndrome, International Day for Persons with Albinism and such.

We have been commemorating most of the days particularly the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in all the provinces. Provinces where most of the disabled persons’ organisations, which are the grassroots

‘Govt sensitive to plight of disabled’organisations, rooted within the communities. They assist the Government in terms of reaching out to persons with disabilities.

They also work with our current system of providing social protection being the case management. This is really working well with children in terms of reaching out to the various forms of abuses that children find themselves subjected to which children with disabilities are not spared.

It’s actually reported to be worse at global level in terms of receipt of this particular abuse. So we coordinate all these actors and provide the necessary resources for communities to come together and share a positive message around persons with disabilities.

Also within the institutional framework, the National Disability Board which I have said is a creation of Section 4 of the Disabled Persons Act, is where the grassroots organisations come together after the appointment by Government and nominating themselves with a full representative in terms of extent of geographical cover and diversity of the type of impairment.

They come together and then try to advise Government as to how best we can improve our policy and programming.

We have also been trying through various partners to implement a lot of programmes towards mainstreaming disability sensitivity in any given developmental programme.

Let’s say, for example, there is a developmental project like food for work, the traditional norm has been for a lot of people to say disability is inability.

These people would then not have a part to play within that particular project. But are we really saying one who is a wheelchair user cannot go there and come up with administration of the inventory?

We need to avoid this culture of saying persons with disabilities are the worthy candidates for handouts. We are trying to really change this mindset. We will continue to make these efforts to change the mindset around treatment of persons with dis- abilities and discrimination.

We will also ride on the good constitutional provision particularly Section 20 and 83 which also buttress the whole mainstreaming of persons with disabilities.

We are also leveraging the existence of various people from line ministries within our national disability board to make sure that within their particular sectors they are sensitive to aspects of disability.

I am talking about those within Local Government so that when they are coming up with local development plans there will be a disability aspect there.

I’m also talking about those from the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development so that when they are deciding on policies on procurement of vehicles there is that disabilities aspect.

Local Government again for when buildings are designed they must ensure that they are accessible. Because these will then be informed by the provision in the Disabled Persons Act that a building has to be accessible.

If it’s not accessible we can invoke an adjustment order to say this is not accessible; it should be accessible to all members of the public but it’s not accessible to this particular group of people so may you please make the necessary rectifications.

CC: How successful has been the implementations of such policies in terms of accessibility of buildings and other services that disabled persons require?

JB: Well, you see that with most of the newly constructed buildings most of them are quite accessible. Even with our own Government buildings, this one (Compensation House), if you go to Munhumutapa as well, where the Office of the President and Cabinet is, a lot are.

But it’s a journey, a journey to change the mindset and inform the public about the importance of coming up with an accessible environment. What we want is a principle that is underlined within the convention called universal design.

When something is being designed let it be designed for all. Be it children, be it older persons, be it persons with disabilities. You never know how circumstances will change, you could get into an accident and before you know it you are a wheelchair user and you will then require all these particular services.

Suffice to say, making the environment accessible is also beneficial to the State developmentally. Why? Because persons with disabilities are 7 percent of the population. So imagine what would happen from the exclusion of this 7 percent. They can contribute significantly to the GDP as well.

CC: With regards to education, there is a new curriculum that the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has been rolling out. Has there been any contribution from your side with regards to the education of children with disabilities?

JB: Definitely there have been contributions. We actually have a member there, one of the directors from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. They actually have a specialised department called the Department of School Psychological Services and Special Needs Education.

So we have been making our contributions through this particular director because we caucus at a lot of fora. We meet at the National Disability Board and a host of other national programmes and programmes with partners.

But essentially if you see that we are gradually moving away from the special school aspect or mode of thinking to try to make sure that we can mainstream accessibility of whatever curricula within the mainstream schools.

This is so that even persons with disabilities can then access their education within the mainstream schools. This then helps for them to not be bothered by others. They will be accessing education at the same institutions. And they may actually be getting better grades than those without impairments. This then helps to get the inclusivity that we are advocating for.

CC: When do you hope to get to this inclusivity that you spoke of? Is there a set date?

JB: You know what happens in life, inclusion is not a day event. It’s just like socio-economic and cultural rights. There is a progressive realisation.

You’ll find that with the international covenant on socio-economic rights there is progressive realisation. You start with something, you build it up into something else, you buttress it, galvanise the efforts, it’s always a process of trying to change the mindsets that were there and shift them so that they become more inclusive.

You will actually find that we have been saying let’s take advantage of the already existing infrastructure to sort of mainstream disability issues within it. Even within some special schools you’re finding children without impairments going to access their education there because the infrastructure is there.

This is a process called reverse inclusion, from the mainstream to the special schools. While inclusion is from the special schools to the mainstream. All these then become the elements and facets of attaining that particular inclusion. It’s process, it can’t happen in a day.

CC: What social grants exist for persons with disabilities in Zimbabwe and how do they go about accessing them?

JB: In terms of social assistance or what you are calling social grants it exists in various ways with the most popular being the public assistance where an amount is offered, currently it is $20. It can be accessed via the district offices.

What we are saying is one who comes to appeal for Government assistance in terms of vulnerability, if one applies for let’s say that particular public assistance, it then follows that if we are to lift this particular individual out of vulnerability, this individual then needs wrap around services.

So then it comes from the public assistance, that person can also apply for assisted medical treatment order which warrants the waiving of user fees at public hospitals and local health service facilities.

We can also talk from an enhanced social protection thinking where we are saying whatever social assistance we should be providing should come up as a sort of social investment.

That’s when you find things like the revolving loan facility whereby we came up with a sort of fund within the Disabled Persons Fund, which gets direct parliamentary allocation of resources.

Within this Disabled Persons Fund a person with a disability can apply for funds to start up an income-generating project, can stipulate the repayment period and so forth. As and when this business takes off and this individual starts paying back to Government, this then finances other projects from other persons with disabilities.

Then, of course, there are the popular per capita and administrative grants whereby institutions or organisations that provide some sort of service to persons with disabilities, like schools such as Zimcare Trust or Jairos Jiri, they can apply as per enrolment for money for the upkeep. We pay in respect of that particular enrolment.

Then also in light of their capacity, they can also apply for funds which is what we call the administrative grant.

Social assistance can be financial or non-financial and so persons with disabilities can still get food aid such as under the food deficit mitigation programme in the wake of the El Nino-induced drought.

We have also been advocating for them coming up with groups as well for livelihoods. A lot of partners have been doing that where you find persons with disabilities are now into organic farming and other livelihood projects.

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