Beth Cook, CEO of equity solution company, Progression, writes:
The theme for this year’s Disability Awareness Month is ‘Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all’. It’s a particularly apt theme for South Africa where the populace continues to grapple with transformation and sustainability issues.
Disability Awareness Month is aimed at raising awareness of disability, the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as the gains that can be made by integrating persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
With International Day of Persons with Disabilities, also celebrated as National Disability Rights Awareness Day, on 3 December, it’s important to create awareness around the issues that 10 per cent of South Africa’s population encounter on a daily basis.
Historically, three main segments of the South African population were, and in some instances still are, subject to severe discrimination. This includes people of colour, women and persons with disabilities. Although the country strives to empower these individuals by ensuring fair treatment and participation for all, persons with disabilities continue to be pushed aside.
Ten per cent of the South African population is made up of persons with disabilities. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is the leading disability worldwide, with the number of people being diagnosed with depression steadily on the rise. Poverty is one of the main factors leading to depression. This is of great concern, especially as 55 per cent of South Africans live below the poverty line.
Disability Awareness Month presents an important opportunity for Corporate South Africa to spread awareness and educate society about disability. It allows Progression to highlight the need to drive the inclusion and advancement of persons with disabilities in the corporate world and society in general. Importantly, it also gives persons with disabilities a chance to tell their stories and talk about their daily battles.
Importantly, we as fellow South Africans need to be listening.
And this is what Progression hopes to promote – listening, understanding and taking action. The majority of people with disabilities face barriers to inclusion at every level of society and do not enjoy equal access to employment, education, and social and political participation, which are all basic human rights. Research by Progression supports this inequitable situation – a mere 5 per cent of persons with disabilities have a Grade 12 qualification. In addition, persons with disabilities make up less than 1 per cent of the reported workforce.
Among the contributing factors are negative attitudes and ongoing discrimination, largely fueled by a lack of knowledge. Progression would like South Africans to join the conversation and take positive steps towards breaking down the barriers around discrimination.
By openly discussing this ‘taboo topic’ and educating ourselves, South Africans can help overcome these barriers. After all, in the words of the late Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world.”