Ms Fatma says that the sad news is evidence that there still exists negative attitudes and social taboos against people living with disabilities in Zanzibar, which leads to the neglect of these vulnerable people including children hampering their development. Despite the ongoing campaign advocating for the rights of people living with disabilities, some parents, guardians, and members of the community still think it is a waste of time, resources and energy to send the disabled (such as deaf, blind, mental, and cripple) children to school,” the minister says.
She says that her ministry is working hard to change people’s perception on people living with disabilities by strengthening awareness, fight stigma, and reviewing some laws. “There is the need to sensitise parents and guardians into sending all children
to school,” she said. Ms Fatma did not mention names of people hiding children with disabilities, but said the cases have been reported in North Unguja and in Pemba Islands.
Although the minister speaks about taking action to improve living environment to people with disabilities, people with disabilities are blaming the government, the media, and members of the community for ‘marginalising’ them. “Actions speak louder than words, but it has been the opposite on issues concerning people with disabilities. We have conventions ratified by our country, we have good policies, and we have politicians always with nice words about us, but never put into practice,” says Amina Abdallah, who is crippled.
She told the ‘Daily News’ that current policy prohibits construction of public buildings unfriendly to people living with disabilities, “but surprisingly newly built government buildings such the Zanzibar House of Representatives and schools are unfriendly to people with disabilities.” Omar Hassan, who is blind says that enforcement of the laws and policies remain difficult because the government, private institutions, and parents “lack a personal determination to change their attitude towards disabled people.”
It seems that many people including leaders cannot even define disability, “any physical, mental and sensory condition that restricts a person’s movements, senses or activities. It refers to malformations that are severe enough to interfere with normal day-to-day living activities,” he said.
But according to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “persons living with disabilities include those who have substantial long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”. Ms Abeida Rashid, director -- department of people with disabilities, says that the rights of people with disabilities can be achieved through collective responsibility and commitment.
“We need education, jobs, marriage, socialisation, sports, easy mobility, therefore roads, buildings, and modern technology such as vehicles and phones should be friendly to people with disabilities,” Abeida said. She said it is important to note that disabilities can be permanent or temporary. The Zanzibar Association of People with Disabilities (UWZ) chairperson, Mr Ali Makame, estimates that more than six thousand of the about one-million people are disabled. The highest numbers of disabilities are visual impairments, mental and physical disabilities.
“Clearly it is indefensible for society to ignore disabled people, notwithstanding the fact that, one does not choose to become disabled.” He said that although many changes are taking place and knowledge about human rights is spreading, still there are some few cases where people believe that if a child is born with a deformity, it is deemed to be a result of evil spirits, a failure of the family to keep taboos, or some type of witchcraft.
Makame argues that despite the seemingly desperate attempts by policy makers to include disabled people in the nation building, they are still marginalised, and not being ‘accepted’ as integral and productive members of society. At a meeting with media practitioners in Zanzibar, Mr Ali Rashid, director of UWZ, said the association has a big role to play in fighting for the rights of disabled persons.
“People living with disabilities still struggle with social stigma and discrimination including stereotype.” “Media has a big role to play in educating the community to break down stigma, social restrictions, and government’s neglect in implementing convention and laws regarding right of the laws,” he said. Mr Ali Saleh said at a meeting with reporters last week that reporters as professional communicators are in position to help shape the public image of persons with disabilities.