The Disability Rights Summit entitled ‘Unified in Disability, Together Advancing People’s Power’ concluded on March 12. Hosted by the Department of Social Development in Pretoria, the summit set off with ambitious directions and concluded with bold statements.
The stated objective was the analysis and conversion of the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into realisable outcomes through practical implementation. The occasion also saw the launch of the Presidential Working Group on Disability.
In his opening address, President Jacob Zuma expressed how the government is working to see that children with disabilities are attending mainstream schools by 2021, part of the a broader plan to integrate all children with disabilities in society:
“Our goal as government is to ensure that by 2021, no children with disabilities will be out of school. They should all be able to attend their local neighbouring schools and receive the necessary support,” the President said.
President Zuma’s call follows that of the Minister for Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini, who in 2014 called on schools and higher education institutions to commit to a quota system for learners with disabilities.
In his speech, President Zuma stated that more than 6,850 students with disabilities have enrolled in higher education institutions, and over 2,800 in Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges since 2014. The President went on to say that still more needs to be done, including changes required to ensure that deaf people and those with communication impairments can access information and communication.
Despite the introduction of initiatives such as the introduction of the South African Sign Language school curriculum in 2015, exclusion of deaf people remains deep. Scarce training and proficiency in South African Sign Language, and the expenses associated with professional sign language interpreter services among other barriers, make inclusion a persistent struggle.
The Department of Social Development went on to commit to working with Parliament, national, provincial and local government institutions, as well as Chapter 9 institutions and organisations representing deaf people to see that Articles 9 and 21 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are fully implemented.