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Momentum on National Disability Policy builds up as NASCOH conducts consultative workshops
National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH)
August 25, 2007

Momentum for the formulation of a National Policy on Disability, which has been steadily building up in Zimbabwe, has been given added impetus following the announcement by the recently appointed Special Advisor on disability and rehabilitation to the President and Cabinet, Dr Felix Muchemwa, that he was ready to lend his weight to the process.

Dr Muchemwa, whose appointment has been hailed by the disability sector as a watershed in disability activism and a development that is bound to have far-reaching implications on the state of disability relations in the country, made the announcement at two workshops for people with disabilities convened by the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) in Bulawayo and subsequently Harare recently.

Speaking at the occasions, Dr Muchemwa, who is also the former Minister of Health and Child Welfare, said: "I have also noted, during the short period that I have been in office, that the absence of a National Policy on Disability, is hindering the advancement of disability issues in the country.

"It is, indeed, a sad indictment on the state of disability affairs in the country that while a host of regional countries, such as South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and Uganda have national policies on disability in place, Zimbabwe has yet to come up with such a policy which is very crucial for providing the necessary framework for the integration of disability issues and people with disability into society. The National Policy on Disability is thus long overdue and my challenge to the disability sector is to come up with meaningful ideas that would allow informed and representative formulation of this policy."

The Special Advisor also called on society at large to play its part in facilitating access for people with disabilities to the fundamental rights and freedoms that they are denied in every aspect of their lives, noting that the society has so far fallen short in this regard: "Sadly, there has been very little, if any, willpower on the part of the society at large to extend these fundamental rights and freedoms to people with disabilities, to include them in the developmental activities of the society, and to remove the various barriers that prevent them from accessing these rights."

Dr Muchemwa, however, bemoaned the lack of unity among the disability sector, which resulted in fragmented efforts and inability to speak with one voice: "This fragmentation of efforts is unnecessary, self-defeating and detrimental to the advancement of disability issues. Cooperation at every level is necessary for the success articulation of disability issues.

"In this vein, a major part of my efforts will be directed towards forging cooperation and ensuring harmonious relations among organisations of people with disabilities, people with disabilities, organisations working directly and indirectly with people with people with disabilities and government. It is only through adopting such a multi-faceted and multi-sectoral approach that we can be able to make any meaningful headway in advancing the cause of disability."

Participants at the workshop, who in Bulawayo were drawn from the Regional Advocacy Committees (RACs) for people with disabilities from Midlands, Masvingo and Matebeleland North and South, and in Harare from Manicaland, Mashonaland East, West and Central, were accorded the opportunity to air their individual and collective concerns to the Special Advisor, who promised to bring them to the attention of the President for consideration.

The workshops, whose objectives were to enhance the capability of the disability sector to promote and protect their rights; share information on the rights of people with disabilities, assess their knowledge base of their rights and then identify and prioritise their needs so as equip them with the capacity to handle their social responsibilities; identify disability activists who will spearhead rights based advocacy programme activities in their region; and create a disability friendly environment in which they meet their local leadership and lobby them on issues of concern to them, came up with a number of resolutions.

The salient resolutions were that NASCOH should spearhead efforts aimed at the formation of a disability ministry; the formulation and implementation of a National Policy on Disability; that NASCOH should forward all resolutions and amendments to the Disabled Persons Act to the Special Advisor for onward action; the introduction of a job placement office for people with disabilities; that the Special Advisor should facilitate the acquisition of assistive devices for people with disabilities including disability friendly computers, wheelchairs, braille machines e.t.c.; and that book publishers should also braille text books for the visually impaired. It was also resolved that all people living with disabilities should be registered and a comprehensive register be maintained for lobby and advocacy efforts; that a study be undertaken as to what our neighbours like South Africa, Kenya, Namibia and Uganda had achieved in terms of a National Policy on Disability and these developments be incorporated into our own framework for a National Disability Policy; that the Special Advisor or NASCOH facilitate funds for research on the disability policy; that all teachers should train as specialist teachers in order to be conversant with the special education needs of children with disabilities; and that there was need to ensure representation of people with disabilities by having focal persons in every ministry, province, ward and district in order to promote mainstreaming of disability issues.

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