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Beyond 2015: ensuring people with disabilities are not left out again

Guest Blogger, July 2011
The sun sets over the mountains at Nsanje Hospital, Nsanje, Malawi

“People thought I should be sent to an institution for the disabled, but my father refused”

AK Dube is the Chief Executive Officer of the Secretariat of the Africa Decade of Persons with Disabilities. Here he reveals why it is vital to include people with disabilities in global development.

As a disabled person living in Africa, I have experienced the challenges and discrimination that many others in similar situations to me experience across the continent.

This week I spoke to parliamentarians, NGOs, and donor agencies about the importance of ensuring disabled people are central to any discussions on international development that happen between now and 2015, the expiry date for the current MDGs, and to ensure disabled people are not left out again.

Although attitudes towards disabled people across the continent of Africa are starting to change, disabled people still face many challenges, ranging from additional costs for the health care services they need, where these even exist, to the stigma and discrimination that disabled people face. It is frequently assumed that because someone is disabled they will be a financial and social burden to their family, rather than a child to be proud of who, with some support, can be an incredibly productive member of the community. I feel my own story has resonance here. The use of my right hand and left leg were impaired when I contracted Polio and measles when I was two and afterwards I lived with my father who was a soldier. He was strict, and made sure I could look after myself – he did not treat me like a child with disabilities. As it was just the two of us I ran the house; collecting firewood, cooking, washing, skills that made me independent. The people in our local village did not approve of this and thought I should be sent to an institution for the disabled, but my father steadfastly refused and in many ways was ahead of his time.

In South Africa, where my organisation is based, progress has been made in understanding the situation of disabled people, and has led to the introduction of monthly grants for people with mental and physical disabilities. Unfortunately, in some disadvantaged areas of the country, old perceptions are still present. During some recent travels to Mpumalanga province for research into the welfare of people with disabilities, I interviewed parents with disabled children, and found that some were still hiding their children away from their communities. Worse still, some would only bring out their disabled child when it was time to pick up the monthly grant.

These attitudes can be broken down, but we need an approach that starts from the top so that at every level we can reinforce the fact that with some assistance, people with disabilities can be active contributors to the community. For this reason I am extremely keen to ensure that disabled people are not left out of any post-2015 development framework.

I think it’s extremely important that whatever follows the MDGs moves beyond a list of non-binding, broad objectives, and that any targets agreed are better linked to binding international bi-tri-multilateral agreements. In my view, the post-2015 agenda needs to contain all of the existing MDGs, but place increased emphasis on:

  • The ratification, domestication and monitoring of the UN CRPD in all countries
  • Greater inclusion of disability in the government’s national development plans, the MDGs and the wider implementation of the UN Convention
  • Empowering persons with disabilities and strengthening their capacity and involvement in development work, democracy and human rights work

The development, support and financial of small-scale enterprises, agriculture and related agri-businesses, ensuring the producers retain as much of the value chain of products as possible/feasible.

Increased government accountability alongside efforts to root-out corruption

I hope that the discussions taking place this week will ensure that in future disabled people will be fully included in international development plans. I will be working closely with partners like the charity Sightsavers to ensure that the voices of disabled people are heard loud and clear.

By AK Dube, the Chief Executive Officer of the Secretariat of the Africa Decade of Persons with Disabilities

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