Let’s help teens with disabilities overcome challenges

By Greaterman Chivandire

Teenagers with disabilities face additional challenges to those faced by most teenagers. Apart from the difficulties all teenagers face at school and in their transition from childhood to adulthood, teenagers with disabilities face other problems related to their disability.

One of them is just being accepted as a normal person by their peers and by society and having easy access to resources that others take for granted. The challenges start well before they reach their teens. Even obtaining admission to their local school may be difficult.

Children with disabilities need to interact with non-impaired children. Non-impaired children need to realise that there are children who are disabled and that they are not different from them, except in respect of their particular impairment. They need to learn how to help their classmates, where help is required, in a non-patronizing way. If they learn to do that as children they will find it easier to interact with people with disabilities when they grow up.

One of the ways these challenges are being overcome is through an Inclusive Education manual which was developed by the Leonard Cheshire Zimbabwe Trust together with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. Since January 2010, when it rolled out its inclusive education programme, it has helped 1 812 children with disabilities, who had previously been excluded from school because of their disability, to obtain places in schools which was adopted for use by teachers in handling learners with a disability. Working with rural and urban primary schools in eight of the country’s 10 provinces, the Trust has facilitated the admission of children with disabilities to their local schools through, for example, building ramps and adapting toilets for use by children in wheelchairs.

Resource centers were also set up to provide training for teachers in handling children with disabilities and their parents and establishing child-to-child and parents to parents’ advocacy groups.

When the Inclusive Education programme was launched in 2010, its promise was to bring both children with disabilities and non-impaired children in learning together at school, where they become used to interacting with one another in a normal environment. The tireless efforts through the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, together with other relevant stakeholders to bring this promise to life, bringing this promise to life has been the critical force in shaping and informing our efforts for the past 4 years. It is anticipated that with the support of the corporate world, this initiative can be taken to all schools in Zimbabwe.

Notwithstanding progress made in this Inclusive Education Project of enrolling more than 1000 children with disabilities in mainstream primary schools in Mash West Province, challenges still remain.  Chief among them is the lack of support from locals, most of whom perceive that support should come from beyond our borders. However, with the recession affecting most people the world over, donor support is dwindling, and our local economic challenges has further compounded the challenges we face in trying to support an inclusive society.

Youths with disabilities have an important role to play in providing a voice to discuss issues that are relevant to them and that can improve their livelihoods. At a national level, Zimbabwe has always shown great leadership on issues affecting people living with disabilities.

Zimbabwe’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with disability shows this commitment towards upholding the rights of persons with disability. The commitments in the Convention have been domesticated in the new Constitution. What remains now is to put these commitments into law so that all our policy maker, judges, magistrates and other judicial and legal players can utilize these principles in their daily work. It will have to take the collective effort from all Zimbabweans, those with disabilities and non-impaired alike to improve the lives of Zimbabwe’s living with disabilities.

The author is the Executive Director at Leonard Cheshire Disability Zimbabwe.

Photo Credit: Richard Nyamanhindi/UNICEF 2014