Disability and discrimination
By Tjiueza Tjombumbi.
March 1st, is Zero Discrimination Day, the United Nations together with other international organizations created this day to combat all forms of discrimination. Zero Discrimination Day is an annual day celebrated and promotes equality before the law and in practice, throughout all of the member countries of the UN, including Namibia.
The day was first celebrated on March 1st, 2014, and was launched by UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé on 27 February 2014. As we all know people are often discriminated against because of their HIV status. However, there are so many reasons why people are discriminated against, all of them unjust.
One of the things which we need to do is to create a world and a nation with zero discrimination, to speak up and prevent discrimination from standing in the way of achieving ambitions, goals and dreams. As a disability advocate in my personal capacity and an employee of the National Disability Council of Namibia (NDCN) this is a topic that is close to my heart. Persons with disabilities are constantly discriminated against, often without others being aware of it.
Buildings, public transport, infrastructure, cities and towns and generally life discriminates against people with disabilities. Moreso, those with the visually impaired and the deaf community are discriminated against.
In this article, I would like to simply point out how persons with disabilities are discriminated against. Days like Zero Discrimination Day, give us a great opportunity to have this conversation. We won’t wave discrimination away by waving a magic wand, but we can start by facing up to facts.
People would be horrified if they were told that they discriminate against persons with disabilities, however, most do discriminate without knowing it. It starts with accessibility and the lack thereof, we don’t plan or create the infrastructure that is wheelchair accessible. But, the lack of wheelchair accessibility is just the tip of the iceberg.
Our society is simply not designed for people who are deaf or visually impaired. How do people that are visually impaired check a menu, without a Braille menu, or some other way to access a menu, maybe through audio? People park their cars in the parking bay meant for somebody with physical disabilities without a second thought as to whether they should. They are always just quickly ‘running in for an errand.’ It simply does not occur to people that those parking spaces need to be kept open for a reason. More so, most security guards, give that parking away for a few coins and when a person needs to park there, the spot is already occupied. The same goes for toilets with wheelchair access, these toilets need to remain open for persons with disabilities and not to be used and abused because people can’t be bothered to use the toilet up or downstairs. Sometimes these toilets are used as storerooms.
It is essential that we as a nation break the cycle of prejudices that we have towards persons with disabilities. Just because they are visually impaired or deaf, does not mean that they cannot be a full-time and productive member of an organization or company for example. They do not want special treatment, they just want to be seen for what they are, which is members of society that want to participate equally and fully. Persons with disabilities are stigmatized, treated and talked to like children this should never happen. If we do not address this discrimination head-on, it will never be eradicated.
As stated earlier, most people are not even aware they are discriminating against persons with disabilities, and that is why Zero Discrimination Day is so important. It is a great opportunity to continue raising awareness on discrimination against persons with disabilities in order to change people’s perceptions and attitudes. The more we talk about it, the more it will become the norm to make society more inclusive and accessible for all including to with disabilities.