Will the National Disability Policy Bill be enacted? ‘PWD’s anxiously wait for life changing Bill’

Kudakwashe Emma Zihonye

In a world where communication is key, 20-year-old Nomatter Amos has faced tremendous challenges in communicating from an early age as she was born deaf.

Her parents discovered she was deaf at the tender age of two, changing the course of her life forever.

Tambudzai, Nomatter’s mother, has tirelessly fought to provide her daughter with adequate education, but the financial burden has proven to be an insurmountable obstacle. The high fees charged by private schools, which offer specialised sign language instruction, have kept Nomatter from receiving the education she deserves.

“I am trapped in poverty, unable to afford the means to send my daughter to school,” Tambudzai narrated her ordeal, her voice tinged with desperation.

“I long for my child to be educated, to grasp the world around her just like any other child would.”

Tambudzai situation highlights the profound injustice faced by many families, who cannot access specialised education for their deaf children.

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According to Zimstat, at least 80% of people living with disabilities are illiterate.

Zimbabwe’s estimated population of 15 million people includes a significant portion of individuals with disabilities. With approximately 15% of the population facing various disabilities, the need for inclusive policies and support systems becomes increasingly imperative.

Amidst this backdrop, the enactment of the long-awaited National Disability Policy Bill is moving slowly, leaving the disabled community anxious.

The bill holds the potential to transform the lives of millions of disabled individuals and their families, providing them with increased opportunities through free education, access to justice and free healthcare services in public hospitals.

These provisions were not provided by the Disabled Persons Act (1992), which will be repealed when the Bill is approved.

Limson Mambiyo, 51, who is visually impaired like his wife, is happy that individuals with disabilities will have access to free education, which he was not able to get.

Limson and his wife sustain themselves and their six children by begging in town. Life is tough for them.

He believes free education will empower persons living with disabilities.

“We would really welcome this move of free education for all persons living with disabilities, but I would also appreciate that the same benefit be granted to the children of people living with disabilities, such as myself and my wife. We are visually impaired and in need of government’s help,” he said.

The bill clearly states that persons with disabilities must be exempted from paying fees and levies at all public learning institutions and ensure an inclusive education system of appropriate standards, appropriate language, and assessment aligned with their special needs.

However, until the Bill becomes law, the disabled community remains cautiously optimistic that their voices will be heard and their rights upheld.

Deaf Zimbabwe Trust, in a statement published on 4 October 2023, said that the lack of an updated Act has prevented people living with disability from enjoying their rights and freedom.

“Deaf Zimbabwe Trust welcomes pronouncements by the president. The tabling of the Bill in parliament will speed up the repeal of the Disabled Persons Act of 1992, which is now outdated and is not in line with current practice for inclusive development,” the organisation said.

The Disabled Persons Act (1992) has been highly discredited for not providing enough policies that cater to people living with disabilities.

The Act, which has been amended a few times, still falls short of the required legislation that promotes inclusivity.

Takudzwa Mavata, a university student who uses a wheelchair, said that infrastructure development should be improved to cater for persons living with disabilities like himself.

“Inaccessibility is a major problem I came across in the education system during school years. Most schools do not have wheelchair areas and entry points, which also discourages young children living with disabilities from going to school,” Takudzwa said.

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The National Disability Policy, launched in 2021 by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, aims to address the marginalisation and discrimination experienced by persons living with disabilities and their families.

At the official opening of the 10th Parliament of Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa revealed that the Persons with Disability Bill would be tabled in the First Session. The bill is however not among those set as legislative agenda for the first session of the 10th parliament.

The policy, if enacted, seeks to ensure that a minimum of 15% of the workforce of all organizations across all sectors comprises persons with disabilities.

One striking aspect of Zimbabwe’s disabled population is the disproportionate number of women among them. More than half of the 15% disabled proportion comprises women, highlighting the unique challenges they face in a society that often overlooks their needs and potential contributions.

UNICEF states that due to over twenty years of socioeconomic challenges, a significant number of children living with disabilities in Zimbabwe face extensive marginalisation and exclusion. They are affected by various barriers such as stigma, discrimination, and systemic and environmental obstacles. Consequently, they frequently encounter exclusion from essential services like education, healthcare, legal support, and other social services, which sets them apart from their non-disabled peers.

Through this provision, the Bill offers a pathway towards greater economic empowerment and inclusivity, potentially transforming the lives of countless disabled individuals and their families.

Beyond economic opportunities, the Bill recognizes the fundamental human rights of persons with disabilities, particularly in relation to education, sexual rights, and access to justice. It emphasizes the importance of building the capacity of the justice delivery system to ensure that individuals with disabilities are treated with dignity, respect, and equality when handling and trying their cases.

Recognising that persons with disabilities often face healthcare challenges, the Bill aims to ensure that they receive the necessary support and services they require, without the financial burden that can exacerbate their already challenging circumstances.

Taurai Chako, a disability advocate, said, for now, the people are not worried about what is contained in the Bill, but when it will be passed and become law. He said it seemed the Bill is not a priority.

“What we know is that our President, in the last opening of the Parliament, said all pending bills, including the Disability Bill, must be passed. Surprisingly, there are more than 20 Bills pending. Now, when is the biggest question? Priority is subjective. What we need is more advocacy and more pressure on the duty bearers,” Chauko said.

With the fate of the bill hanging in the balance, PWDs, their advocates, and concerned citizens across Zimbabwe continue to rally for its swift passage into law.

Only time will tell whether their hopes and aspirations will be realized, but their unwavering spirit and relentless pursuit of equality signal a promising future for persons with disabilities in Zimbabwe.

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