The latest disability report shows that South Africa is one of the better-performing countries in terms of research in the disability sector. However, concerns have been raised by scientists, disabled people and practitioners in the sector regarding the grim picture of the status quo of people with disabilities in the country.
Bradley Carpenter, a scientist at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), said he was concerned about the general reduction of questionnaires and surveys on disability globally, although South Africa was one of the best performing in terms of research.
Professor Jill Hanass-Hancock, senior specialist scientist at the SAMRC’s Gender and Health research unit, said: “There is an urgent need for more national and sub-national datasets that regularly collect data on functional difficulties and for more analyses of existing datasets with such questions to produce disability-disaggregated data. There are currently opportunities in the disability field for data analyses that support and inform policy and advocacy, including in big data. This is critical to develop evidence-based policies and programs and to monitor the human rights situation of persons with disabilities.”
Hanass-Hancock said the data shows that people with disabilities in South Africa experience multifaceted poverty.
“This could be a result of no income, lack of employment, no access to healthcare and education. The data also shows that the North West has a high prevalence of people with functional disability at 31% in comparison with the Western Cape, which has a low 18%,” she said.
Hanass-Hancock raised concerns about South Africa not having a disability bill as yet.
“If you compare sexual harassment and disability, for example, you note that there are many acts protecting sexually harassed people. Though disability has the white paper, there is not much protection for people with disabilities,” she said.
A person living with disabilities living in Khayelitsha who did not want to be named due to fears of stigmatisation said being disabled in South Africa is not easy.
“Though we are all equal before the law, there are not enough measures in place to ensure that we, as disabled people, are a bit more comfortable. Access to services is a different experience for disabled people than an able bodied person. This seems to not be considered in South Africa,” she said.
Jacques Lloyd, who is a research and disability activist, and represents the South African disability sector, said there are many disability politics in South Africa.
“These range from a lack of funding, hoarding of funds, power struggles and disabled organisations have in the past been audited and discovered to have substantial funds disappear,” he said.
Lloyd said though South Africa has made significant progress where disability inclusivity is concerned, there is still so much prejudice in the sector.
“There is still a high level of stigmatisation, lack of rights, lack of employment (especially in the mid-senior management). A disabled person is usually employed to be an administrator. The disability sector was not even allocated a budget for 2023. We have enough policies. We need implementation,” he said.
There are seven years left to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and its pledge is to “leave no one behind”. Lloyd is adamant that disabled people will be left behind.
“Covid was a double blow for disabled people in South Africa. I received countless messages from disabled people who complained that their families were taking their grants and living off them for survival,” he said.