Four months after the groundbreaking Disability Equality Act of 2021 was passed, the real work has begun in earnest to ensure that people with disabilities fully enjoy their rights, said the Minister of Social Development, “said Matebatso Doti.
A disability allowance for people with disabilities will be introduced from September this year. So far, the Disability Ministry for Social Development has started working with ministries, departments and other stakeholders to include disability issues in government programs, Ms. Doti said.
But as various stakeholders, including the Lesotho National Federation of Organizations of the Disabled (LNFOD) recognize, there is a long way to go and much more needs to be done before people with disabilities can enjoy their rights with their able-bodied counterparts.
According to LNFOD, while the passage of the law was a great victory in itself, the focus now needs to shift from speaking with good intentions to mainstreaming disability issues in all state and national programs.
In particular, the ministry and education, training and schools must now revise their curricula to include braille and sign language, among other things, to ensure that visually impaired and deaf learners have access to learning opportunities alongside their non-disabled peers.
What the law provides
The law on equality for people with disabilities, which came into force in March 2021, provides a number of statutory rights for people with disabilities. These include the right to physical access, access to services such as health, education and the establishment of the disability council.
It also introduces the Disability Advisory Board, whose main role is to advise on how various stakeholders should make adjustments and changes to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy their rights.
“The passage of the law is a major milestone that has a positive impact on the rights of people with disabilities and in fact reinforces all other measures to realize and promote the rights of people with disabilities in Lesotho,” said LNFOD executive director, lawyer Nkhasi Sefuthi said in an interview with the Lesotho Times.
With the passage of the law, Lesotho also domesticated the UN Disability Rights Convention (UNCRPD), which it ratified in 2008.
“The domestication of this treaty, which recognizes and protects the rights of people with disabilities, has not only brought long-lost hope to the Lesotho community, but is a life-changing milestone that must be celebrated by all.”
Lawyer Sefuthi led the final promulgation of the Disability Act on the strong advocacy of organizations representing people with disabilities and other local and international partners such as the International Commission of Jurists, the National NGO for Human Rights, the media houses and the Ministry of Social Development.
He said their contribution had ensured that the provisions of the law benefit people with disabilities who comply with UNCRPD human rights standards and Chapters 1 and 2 of the Lesotho Constitution.
“The law also contains the provision on the establishment of the public fund for the disabled. This is necessary to finance projects to strengthen the community with disabilities and the introduction of disability and care allowances in order to reduce the disability-related costs of the recipients. For the purposes of this law, people with disabilities have the right to choose their place of residence and compulsory placement is prohibited, ”said Adv Sefuthi.
What is being done
Starting in September, skilled people with disabilities will soon receive a monthly disability grant from the government, Minister for Social Development Doti told the Lesotho Times.
Ms. Doti said the grants are intended to help cushion her against the economic challenges the country is currently facing.
She said the grants would initially be paid out as a pilot project in five districts and should that be successful; they will be extended to the rest of the country.
She said the qualification criteria would be drawn up in collaboration with the Ministry of Health to ensure that only deserving people benefit from the grants. She was not fooled into saying what criteria would be used to determine eligibility and how much each person would receive.
“We have also secured funds from our development partners and from September people with disabilities will receive disability allowances.
“The grant will initially be awarded as a pilot project in five districts, namely Thaba-Tseka, Mohale’s Hoek, Quthing, Leribe and Butha-Buthe,” said Doti.
In addition to the disability grants, Ms. Doti said they had started integrating disability issues into government programs.
She said they would actively engage various government ministries to ensure that they fully consider the rights and well-being of people with disabilities in all of their programs.
“We urge the Department of Education and Training to ensure that sign language and Braille are included in the curriculum so that the deaf and visually impaired can learn easily.
“We also want to ensure that the Ministry of Public Works’ school facilities and construction projects are specifically geared towards the needs of people with disabilities. This means that there must be ramps to ensure that buildings are easily accessible for people with disabilities.
“We are also working with the Department of Public Service to ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against in employment opportunities. They should also be considered as they are just as capable as anyone else. The Ministry of Gender, Youth, sport and leisure should take people with disabilities into account in all their sporting activities.
“My ministry is pleased that the Disability Equality Act, which we have been advocating for a long time, was finally passed this year. People with disabilities were marginalized the longest as there was no law protecting their rights, ”said Doti.
The work that lies ahead
But for LNFOD, the initial euphoria surrounding the passage of the law has ebbed.
In its place is the sobering reality of the work that needs to be done to ensure people with disabilities can finally enjoy their full rights, says Puleng Mosili, LNFOD’s Inclusive Education Officer.
In particular, Ms Mosili wanted less conversation and more action to be taken to take action to address the challenges faced by learners with disabilities.
Political will is required to deal with the enormous barriers that prevent learners with disabilities from having full access to education like their non-disabled counterparts.
These barriers include a lack of subject teachers with special educational needs, learning resources and aids, poorly designed physical infrastructure preventing learners with disabilities from accessing learning venues.
Schools and other learning facilities also need to be redesigned to include ramps and other infrastructures that allow people with physical disabilities to make the buildings easily accessible, says Ms. Mosili.
“We are not calling for children with disabilities to be treated as fragile beings. We say there are several aspects that need to be taken into account in order to achieve equity in learning, ”she says.
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“What modes of transport do you use to and from school, for example? Does it allow them to be in class on time? Do you have to cross rivers, hills, dongas and other geographic landscapes to get to school?
“What disabilities does a child have? What learning resources does the child with this particular disability need? Do you need Braille, hearing aids or glasses? “
But before the obstacles can be addressed, hiring barriers or societal prejudices, misunderstandings and stereotypes must be addressed, says Ms. Mosili.
“It is one thing to pass the best-thought-out law and another to change societal perceptions and prejudices that have become entrenched in people’s minds through religion, tradition, and cultural beliefs.
“Some parents believe that their children’s disabilities are due to their failure to perform certain cultural rituals to appease their ancestors for them.
“Disability is associated with a lot of stigma and discrimination. In societies and communities, stigmatization, discrimination and consequently the violation of the rights of people with disabilities begins. Teachers are members of communities and equally skilled learners. Of course, they carry the values of their communities – that is, they carry their communities’ prejudices and prejudices against people with disabilities. Before you train special education teachers, before you have an inclusive education, before you provide learning resources and enabling infrastructure, you need to address the societal values and prejudices that have created the stigma of discrimination against people with disabilities, ”says Ms. Mosili. (See story entitled, “Disability Took Me Out Of The Classroom, Buried My Dreams”).