About 2.2 million South Africans live with some sort of disability, according to the 2001 census, which was the last census to include specific questions on disability. Four years earlier, government recommended that health facility norms and standards include minimum measures to ensure barrier-free access to health care.
Almost 20 years later, patients in Mofolo, Soweto say they still face a plethora of challenges in accessing health care.
Muzi Nkosi, 51, is the chairperson of the Self Help Association of Paraplegics (SHAP), which originally formed in 1981 as a collective of disabled residents who started their own factor employing only disabled people. He says many clinics still lack ramps and other modifications to make them wheelchair-friendly.
Referrals from local clinics to other facilities or specialists are a nightmare on their own, he adds.
“(Referrals) cost us a lot of money due to the fact the we have to hire special transport,” Nkosi said.
Emily Mogoai project manager from the Eyethu Centre for Disable Children says the centre faces similar problems transporting its children to and from health facilities.
Nkosi added that many health workers still do not know how to deal with differently abled people.
“Lack of awareness and sensitisation lessons on disability is one of major problem that leads to failing of the health system,” said Nkosi, who added that health workers often have negative attitudes towards disabled people. “We are undermined as we are actually treated as people that can not able to represent ourselves.”
No “one size fits all” solution[quote float=”right”]“If I happened to get sick in a space in which I didn’t have someone to interpret for me, I would be in big trouble…none of our health workers can understand sign language”
Many also lack the simple floor lighting and health promotion materials in Braille needed to accommodate blind people, said SHAP project manager Eric Marumo who is also blind.
“Blindness…differs,” said Marumo, explaining that people living different levels of blindness may need different kinds of modifications in clinics. “Some need lights that will guide them (and) others need floor lines that will guide them and others … None of those are available in our health facilities.”
“We are denied access to health services due to our blindness and … not being able to read information from pamphlets,” he added. “I have to go back home and get someone to read them to me on my behalf.
“I feel I am being treated unfairly since there is Braille material that will suit us,” Marumo added.
For those with hearing loss, being unable to communicate properly with health workers could me a matter of life or death, says Sizwe Mazaka who is deaf and works for the Deaf Federation of South Africa.
“With us people living with deafness, disability is kind of different since we have no problem accessing health facilities,” said Mazaka speaking through sign language interpreter Mpho Lekgodi. “Our challenge becomes worse when it comes to communication.”
“If I happened to get sick in a space in which I didn’t have someone to interpret for me, I would be in big trouble due to the fact that none of our health workers can understand sign language, let alone (paramedics),” Mazaka told OurHealth.
Mofolo Ward 36 Councillor Gugugulethu Mbatha agreed that the health system does not cater for the disabled but said she was hopeful that local health and social development committees would be able to take patients’ complaints further.