A few weeks after I commenced my internship with the Zambian Governance Foundation, I attended a Disability and Equity Training that the organisation offers for partner organisations as a way of encouraging mainstreaming of disability in workplaces. Coming from a home with a visually impaired older brother, I was curious to find out what the training was about. As I sat down the facilitator asked the participants to write down what came to mind when they heard the words, “person, disabled person, segregate disabled person, include disabled person.” This exercise took me back to when I was a child, I remembered the way people used to stare each time I walked down the road with my elder brother. The gazes made me wonder as to what went on in people’s minds. By the time we completed the little exercise, I could see how people struggled to describe a person with a disability. Instead of just looking at someone with a disability as a person, people attempted to explain the disability first. Most participants thought of words which carried negative connotations such as “crippled, lame and handicapped”. The facilitator of the training, as if to confirm my line of reasoning, then said, “we ourselves decide where to draw the line as to when someone can be considered disabled.” Traditionally, disability was understood as fate or punishment in relation to one’s beliefs and religion. It was also considered as an unchangeable condition. Several myths about disability have led to some families hiding their relatives with disability from society for fear of being mocked. The Persons with Disabilities Act No. 6 of 2012 defines disability as “a permanent physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment that alone, or in combination with social or environmental barriers, hinders the ability of a person to fully or effectively participate in society on an equal basis with others”.
The facilitator further explained that, “disability is neither the mere functional limitations of individuals, nor the difficulty of performance which results directly from such limitations. Disability is, discrimination, social exclusion and restriction of participation which is socially constructed and imposed upon people who are regarded as different in terms of body functions and structures”. This simple explanation drew my thoughts to the different ways in which people with disability are discriminated and excluded by the society. Usually infrastructure is a major barrier that prevents persons with disabilities from performing at their full potential. People with disabilities also miss out on a lot of employment opportunities and even fail to participate in making decisions when it comes to issues that affect them. I remember during the election period reading in different newspapers on how people with disability failed to exercise their right to vote as a result of unforeseen challenges. I was glad when the facilitator explained to the participants how they could come up with disability policies in their workplaces to ensure full participation of persons with disabilities. The disability policies would also ensure that persons with disabilities have equal opportunities in the workplace and to promote a safe, accessible and healthy workplace. Just like many participants in the workshop I thought a disability policy was only necessary for employees with disabilities but the facilitator explained that any employee could suffer disability in the course of their work hence the importance of having a disability policy in place.
The presentation on the National Policy on Disability caught my attention too as I had never bothered to really find out more about it. Though the National policy aims “to make sure that persons with disabilities can live decent and productive lives without any barriers”, people with disabilities still face many challenges. However, it soothes my heart to know that there are organisations like ZGF committed to uplifting the rights of people with disabilities through their trainings and programmes.