Address needs of learners with disabilities

HARARE - Zimbabwe is a community that is hypothetically dedicated to equal access and accommodation for all its members.

However, we believe that when it comes to an education policy tailored for disabled students’ needs, the State is falling short.

Elsewhere in this edition, we report that the Deaf Zimbabwe Trust (DZT) has said public schools must offer disabled students a special educational programme sufficiently ambitious to ensure they make progress.

DZT’s Barbra Nyangairi said Zimbabwe’s current education system was not inclusive and failed to provide quality for learners with disabilities. With the advent of a new Constitution ushered in 2013, we are at a watershed moment in the history of disability rights in Zimbabwe. Laws and cultural norms must shift to create new opportunities, better access and a relatively more inclusive society.

And yet people with disabilities, their caregivers, families and allies have never been more aware of the many barriers they face. Nyangairi said the majority of disabled students find themselves doing petty vending on the streets or begging and those who are supposed to be in Grade Seven are functionally-illiterate. We share the concerns of a community growing increasingly upset about the ways in which they are excluded from academic and enrichment activities.

There is a pattern of discrimination and exclusion. For parents, that struggle is nowhere more apparent than in schools. While the Primary and Secondary Education ministry in its new curriculum has made the syllabi for Shona, Ndebele, Tonga, Tshivenda, Kalanga, Nambya, Sesotho and Shangani to mention a few, the new programme of study is conspicuously silent on sign language for the deaf.

In regular conversation with parents across Zimbabwe, Nyangairi said she discovered many who are struggling through much more difficult situations, whether from abuse, mockery or just general resistance to meeting a child’s needs. Access to communications for disabled people must improve dramatically. Buses and trains must be accessible for the disabled. Access to universities and schools must get better. We must all change our attitudes. We need an increasing awareness to the diversity and complexity of disability as more people with disabilities gain access to public spaces.

Government claims it will soon enact a modern, clear and streamlined law to tackle discrimination of people living with disability, according to Social Welfare deputy minister Tapiwa Matangaidze.

Currently, there are no legal regulations on Zimbabwe’s statutes specific to disabled people only. At least 10 percent of Zimbabwe’s 13 million-plus population is living with disabilities.

We implore government to speed up the enactment of the mooted Disabled Persons’ Act.

According to Matangaidze, the outreach programme has already been taken to six of the 10 provinces. We call for speedy consultations to adequately address this issue.

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