The Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities in partnership with Japan International Cooperation Agency held a two-day conference in Johannesburg last week.
The National Disability Summit was a platform of engagement and consultation on issues relating to people with disabilities.
Among the dignitaries who attended the event were Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulama Xingwana, Deputy Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, Eastern Cape social development MEC Pemmy Majodina, Yutaka Yoshizawa from the Japanese Embassy, chairperson of the Secretariat for the Africa Decade of Persons with Disabilities Rosewater Mudarikwa, mayor of Ventersdorp Celia Lephoi, members of the provincial legislature and councillors.
Xingwana said she was willing to listen but also emphasised the government could not do this alone. She urged the private sector and other organisations to step in and work on the challenges of disabilities as a united nation.
“This summit is long overdue. It was supposed to have been held in March 2010 but never happened. In March 2011 there was a concern that not much is being done hence it is only happening now.
“We want to establish a good working relationship with government departments and organisations working with people with disabilities.”
Yoshizawa said disability was not only a South African problem but a universal problem.
“This summit will help us come up with solutions that will help everyone. People with disabilities need to be included in everything and not be sidelined. Japan still has challenges for people with disabilities. I sincerely hope this summit will bring fruitful results.”
Mudarikwa said the aim of the summit was to change the lives of people living with different kinds of disabilities not only in South Africa but on the continent as well.
Bogopane-Zulu, who was a programme director and living with disability herself, helped the minister to answer questions that were asked by the individuals at the event.
The deputy minister raised concerns about other organisations that refuse to work with her department. She said those organisations did not want to attend summits even though they received their invitations timeously but that would never stop them from reaching the target they want to reach.
Among those who interacted with the minister was Lephoi, the mayor of the Kenneth Kaunda municipality in North West, who raised her challenges and appealed to Xingwana to intervene.
“Most people in my province are disabled, not because they were born disabled but because they were the victims of the apartheid regime. Ventersdorp still has an apartheid stigma and it is my first time attending such a conference. I am here to support persons with disabilities as I know the challenges they go through. People with disabilities need to be recognised as human beings,” said Lephoi.
Among other issues that came out of the discussion was the problem of disabled people begging on the streets and how the government is going to reach 2% target for people with disabilities in the public sector by March next year, including improving productivity level and occupational health and safety by strengthening reasonable accommodation measures. According to the minister some government departments have already reached 2%. She said 4% of the staff at the Department of Home Affairs are disabled.
Xingwana also said this year all departments who reached 2% would be rewarded for their good work with the national disability performance award.
It was also outlined at the summit that most private sectors prefer white disabled people over black disabled people, which needs to change and that the department is working on the matter.
The issue of disabled university graduates was also touched on as most people who have qualifications are sitting at home with no work.
The minister admitted that special schools are a challenge and they are working with Minister of Basic Education to come up with solutions.
Most people were concerned about dropouts in the disability community and asked the minister to look into the matter because a lot of disabled people drop out before they reach Grade 12.