Pretoria - “We are your future so include us in society” was the clarion call of young persons with disabilities on Saturday during the third and final day of the National Disability Rights Summit.
Disabled Youth South Africa (DYSA) chairman Wonderboy Qaji said government was doing a lot to change things for the youth.
DYSA “represented all youth with all disabilities in the country” and self-empowerment was important in providing youth with opportunities to speak up for themselves, Qaji told a discussion group on youth with disabilities.
“We must make sure that disabled youth are fully included in society and in the country,” Deputy Minister in the Presidency Buti Manamela said.
This included ensuring transformation in the education system.
Manamela moderated the panel of young persons with disabilities representing South African youth with disabilities.
“It is important to implement the steps for the youth, and it is important to inform society about disability issues,” he said.
The young leaders played a critical role in telling government about issues important to the country’s youth.
“Our future must be clear. We want to support the mainstreaming of persons with disabilities,” Manamela said.
Qaji said youth often encountered problems in becoming fully functioning, contributing members to the economy and in accessing services, and “there must be a budget for youth with disabilities”.
President of the South African Deaf Youth Development Project (SADYDP) Nkosinathi Ndhlovu agreed on accessibility and said access to quality healthcare and HIV and Aids services among deaf youth was a priority, especially in rural communities.
South African Sign Language was being introduced in various areas of life, such as in some of the country’s universities and organisations, but “there are many deaf youth in rural areas and we must do something for them”.
He said SADYDP provided sign language training, and ICT and entrepreneurial skills to the youth. There was a need for a youth fund to be set up to provide support and access to young persons with disabilities.
Epilepsy South Africa youth ambassador and BMX racer Justin Dekker said epilepsy has not stopped him living a full life.
Dekker, who at 16 is Epilepsy South Africa’s youngest ambassador, will travel to Columbia on May 18 to compete in the BMX World Championships.
There were 40 different types of epilepsy, and: “Many people with epilepsy won’t speak up due to the stigma attached to the condition.”
Dekker said it was time for stigmatisation around disabilities to end because many people had clearly demonstrated that a disability was not a limitation to living a great life. “Let’s help people realise they have a future in life,” he said.
Benedict Leteane of the South African Blind Youth Organisation said he envisioned a “better future for young people”.
It had to start with a shift in attitude. “We have to look at how to change people’s attitudes toward persons with disabilities. The greatest challenge is not with government, but it is with us in society. Change starts within ourselves. South Africa is alive with possibility but the change must begin with us. We need to change our attitudes through participation in dialogues,” he said.
Furthermore, “government must ensure full access for our youth - information accessibility needs to be easy for blind people”.
Lyr Weltsman, a disability activist for the South African Mental Health Advocacy Movement, said mental health was an important issue that needed to be addressed efficiently.
“Living with a mental disorder can cause severe disabling effects. A mental disorder is an illness like cancer and diabetes are illnesses.
“Children with disabilities need support structures within schools and every school must have a school counsellor who can assist their students in coping with their disability, and school counsellors who are trained in the various types of disabilities,” Weltsman said.
Access to quality healthcare for disabled youth in rural areas was important and sensitisation workshops around mental health and disability in schools were necessary.
These workshops were essential to effectively address stigmatisation and discrimination, she said.
African News Agency