Children with disabilities thriving for success

Buti Mahlangu, social worker at City of Tshwane Community and Social Service Department. | Supplied

Buti Mahlangu, social worker at City of Tshwane Community and Social Service Department. | Supplied

Published Jan 30, 2024


Does society help unlock the potential of children with disabilities? Do communities lock the potential of children with disabilities by being biased, stereotypical and discriminating against them?

Buti Mahlangu, Social Worker at City of Tshwane Community and Social Service Department (DSD) said that resources or devices for people with disabilities to study further and make their dreams a reality are expensive, which hinders the progress of children with disabilities.

“It is very easy for children with disabilities to give up on their dreams because resources are expensive. The other challenge is learning barriers – the learning pace of persons with disabilities and persons without disabilities is different. Children with disabilities need a patient government. Accommodation for people with disabilities in learning institutions also limits progress – some institutions do not accommodate certain disabilities. The community need to be prepared and conscientious about children with disabilities to contribute to a greater society,” said Mahlangu who is also visually impaired.

Brian Tshwale (24). | Supplied

Brian Tshwale (24), who uses a wheelchair, said he felt excluded when he was growing up in the village as he could not go out without someone assisting him.

“The challenge I faced as a child with a disability from a village was that I couldn’t go out on my own to play with other children. I would have to wait for someone to push me. The streets were not friendly to accommodate someone on a wheelchair. Now in my adulthood the challenges are still the same, some of the roads do not favour people on a wheelchair.

“Another challenge is that, I was 12 years old when I wanted to be a vet, but as I grew older, I learned that my dream couldn’t become a reality. I gave up on this dream when I was in high school because often, people with a disability are not required for this type of career.”

Mahlangu further said, the adage, “it takes a village to raise a child” is not practised when it comes to children with disabilities as they are often excluded in the community.

“We cannot say it takes a community to raise a child when it comes to children with disabilities because in most cases, families hide them as they are afraid of what the community will say. They are not exposed to the outside environment where they can feel as part of the community. Children with disabilities face different challenges such as stigma, rejection, parental denial, placement in schools and ill-treatment in homes for persons with disabilities. These children are also excluded from the mainstream – there is still a division amongst children with disabilities and those who do not have disabilities.

“The other challenge is when families hide children with disabilities but still apply for SASSA grants and support the family with it – forgetting to use the money for the needs, upbringing and future of the child. Some children with disabilities are sent to homes and neglected there, many are ill-treated and grow up resenting their families for abandoning them. They grow up with built-up anger of resentment and explode as they were treated like burdens,” said Mahlangu.

Mahlangu said that failure to expose children with disabilities to the outside world leads to delayed mental growth and children being socially withdrawn.

Nelisiwe Mlangeni, a single mother of two talks about her son, Owethu Malibongwe Lukhele (18) who was diagnosed with autism at the age of four, and was later diagnosed with epilepsy. She remembers when he started being sick at a year and two months old.

“My son was unconscious after rushing him to the hospital, and was in that state for almost a week. When he finally woke up, he had seizures. The moment I discovered that there was a problem with him was when he had retarded developmental milestones; he was no longer talking, it took him a while to be out of nappies. He was then diagnosed with Autism.

“The journey has not been easy - even now when he has just turned 18. The challenges I had raising him included inclusivity – to be integrated into the mainstream, as a result we suffered to get a school that could cater to his needs. Now I am struggling to get a skills development centre or stimulation centre for him to acquire skills.

“Most of the schools are very expensive, it becomes difficult to afford him placement where he will be better taken care of. I feel overwhelmed. I feel scared for the future but at the same time I am trusting God for a way forward.

“Now as an adult the issues are how am I going to go forward with his medical care as it gets expensive. I also think about his independency – how long is it going to take for him to be independent without any supervision?

“The issue of inclusivity is still ongoing. Society will not be in a position whereby they understand the issue of neurodivergent children or people who are different from what is known to society. You see this by how they treat people who are different from them. There will always be challenges of miscommunication, discrimination and stigma. I feel that society needs to be capacitated to know about issues people with disabilities face.”

We spoke to children to find out what their views are regarding children with disabilities being excluded in society:

Boitumelo Kumalo (15), previous school representative said: “I don’t think that children with disabilities are included in the communities. Society should promote social inclusion in schools for children with disabilities to feel that they belong and can contribute to a better community. We should start celebrating our peers for their differences, and if this starts from a young age less discrimination and more inclusion will happen.”

Motankisi Bokamoso, previous school head girl, said: “The truth is that children with disabilities from financially stable homes are more represented in communities, but we cannot say the same for Thabo who lives in Qwaqwa, Tseki, a place with gravel roads that are not suitable for his wheelchair, or Thando who is deaf and lives in Mabolela with an uneducated majority about her condition.

“To include children with disabilities in the community, a start could be having a teenager with a disability on a TV show like YoTV, or start representing children with disabilities in popular shows like Skeem Saam – if, for example Paxton Kgomo was blind, deaf or on a wheelchair. This would be a way of making them feel as part of the community.”

Bontle Ndhlovu (10), children’s book author said: “If children with disabilities want to do something with their lives, people should not judge them because of the disability they have or how different they are from other people. They too are people; they have feelings and they can do what they want.”

Phenyo Ramabu (13) Miss Teen Intelligent SA Finalist who advocates for health equity said: “The stories of children with disabilities are not always told, I feel that it’s because they are being overprotected by their families and the media. If children with disabilities were given a platform to tell their stories this could raise awareness on the challenges they face. Instead of making them trend for entertainment like we see on social media we could use such platforms to educate people about different diseases and disabilities affecting children.”

Mmabatho Makotanyane is a former community journalist currently furthering her studies in journalism with Wits Centre for Journalism and Media Monitoring Africa.

The Star