File Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency(ANA)

Port Elizabeth - President Cyril Ramaphosa has committed the government to empower people with disabilities at the end of the first meeting of the Presidential Working group on Disability on Tuesday, following his State of the Nation Address on 7 February. 

Ramaphosa called on government departments to commit to the inclusion of people with disabilities in carrying out their mandates and he called on the private sector to make similar commitments. 

Transport Minister Blade Nzimande, Justice Minister Michael Masutha, Social Development Deputy Minister Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu and Deputy Minister of Public Service and Administration Dr Chana Pilane-Majake, as well as several Directors-General attended the meeting.

More than 20 disability sector organisations attended the meeting, including Action in Autism, Epilepsy South Africa, the Association of Hearing Loss Accessibility and Development, Disability Workshop Development Enterprise, Deaf Federation of South Africa, the Albinism Society of South Africa; the Paralympic Committee, Down Syndrome South Africa and Disabled People South Africa.

Other stakeholders included Albinism Society of South Africa; Institute for the Promotion of Disabled Manpower, Disabled Children Action Group, South African Federation for Mental Health, Disabled Women South Africa, Disability Association for South African National Military Veterans, Deaf Empowerment Firm, BlindSA, the South African Deaf Youth Development Project; the National Association of Persons with Cerebral Palsy and the SA National Association of Blind and Partially Sighted Persons.

The sector highlighted the five overarching goals for the attention and action of the Presidential Working Group on Disability. Placing the Office of Disability within the Presidency. 

In the discussion, the adoption of Sign Language as the 12th official language was highlighted. The meeting also put forward the importance of mainstreaming disability and entrenching this through law so that disabled people are incorporated as equals to all other citizens in line with the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with disabilities.

They emphasised the need to implement programmes in government that supported people with disabilities. Strengthening the criminal justice system and other spheres to protect and bring to an end the victimisation and abuse of vulnerable groups and people with disabilities was also highlighted.

Besides the five main concerns above, issues raised included local production of assistive devices for people with disabilities, ensuring that mainstream early childhood development programmes cater for the needs of children with disabilities, changing societal attitudes to people with disabilities and an end to the senseless violence and killings of people with disabilities, particularly people with albinism.

President Ramaphosa said the Working Group would process the proposals made through a number of technical committees that would be focused on securing implementation of the proposed actions.

African News Agency (ANA)