‘Differently-abled people deserve good lives,’ says activist

The rights of differently-abled people are under the spotlight as Disability Rights Awareness month is marked until 3 December.
Differently-abled people often experience loneliness, saying it helps to be surrounded by people who know what they are going through. (Photo: Freepik)

An activist, who has first-hand experience, believes differently-abled people should get to enjoy life like ‘normal people’ as the country continues to mark Disability Rights Awareness month.

Khuselwa Mkhosana, 32, is an activist for what she terms “uniquely-abled” people. She has been living as an amputee since she was six years old.

“We deserve all the opportunities and chances that any other-abled person gets. When you see me at a club in my wheelchair, don’t ask yourself what I’m doing there, because I’m living my best life. I speak for most differently-abled people when I say that we don’t want people’s sympathy,” said Mkhosana.

What the numbers reveal

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 1 billion people worldwide who live with some form of disability. South Africa accounts for about 5.1%; 8 out of 10 of whom people living with disabilities are unemployed.

Studies show that many people are likely to develop some form of disability in their lifetime, whether temporary or permanent. Some people are already living with hidden disabilities that are unknown to them.

According to research conducted by Independent Living Institute,  people with disabilities are still discriminated against. Disabled women experience the same oppression as non-disabled women, but often without even the status that women traditionally receive as mothers or wives. In addition, disabled women experience more discrimination than other women from being unable to live up to the demanding ideals for womanhood imposed by society.

‘Public transport can be scary’

Sithembile Ngobe, 37,  from Hazeyview in Mpumalanga, works as a bank teller in Johannesburg. She was diagnosed with post-polio as a child.

“I have been living in a wheelchair my whole life. Living in boarding school when I was growing up sheltered me from a lot of the discrimination that I would face in the real world,” said Ngobe.

Ngobe travels to work every day using a taxi. She said the comments made by the cue marshals on a daily basis can be very hurtful.

“Using public transport can be scary. When I get to the taxi rank I have to ask the driver to help carry me inside because I cannot lift myself, like other people who are in wheelchairs. They often make remarks like: ‘no sisi, you should stop eating so much pap if you want us to carry you because you are so heavy’. They often say this loudly, causing people to stare at me even more closely.”

Disability used by pastors

Ngobe added that she stopped going to church because pastors identified her as a candidate that they could use to demonstrate healing. They’d encourage her to stand up and walk “in the name of the Lord.”

“They would call me and try to pray for me. Even as a grown-up, people still treat me this way. It’s on me to remind myself that I am beautiful every day. I believe I look good and so I feel good. It’s constant so that I don’t let the comments made by people put me in a dark place mentally,” said Ngobe.

Transforming ideas of beauty

“An important part about raising awareness and educating society about people who are living with disabilities is to show them that we are also a part of the society and not to be excluded from the mainstream. When you look at a magazine or billboard, you don’t see representations of women living with disabilities as symbols of beauty. Transforming ideas of beauty to include amputees, women on wheels, and other different abilities, is an important part of inclusivity,” said Mkhosana.

She organized a “Style Me” event for uniquely-abled people to celebrate their abilities and to encourage a positive outlook.  The event took place on the 13th of November and was hosted at the Stadio Higher Education for Fashion in Randburg.

“I had bow legs when I was a toddler and needed surgery. They operated on my right leg first which was successful, but the left leg got infected and I was rushed to hospital. I woke up the next morning and my leg was gone,” explained Mkhosana.

She plans to have more events that celebrate people living with disabilities. She’d also like to educate able-bodied people about looking beyond one’s physical abilities.

“Growing up, I wish that I could’ve been surrounded by other people who looked like me. There is a sense of loneliness and it helps to have a community of people who are going through the same journey.”

More education about different abilities

Independent Living Institute’s research noted that there is still a serious lack of reliable information on the nature and prevalence of disability in SA.

Zoë Phadi, 36, from Kagiso, attended the Style Me event because she was looking forward to learning from other amputees.

“I was involved in a car accident when I was 18-months old, so I have been using a prosthetic for more than 30 years now. This is the first opportunity I get to attend an event that is specifically for differently-abled people,” said Phadi.

She said that there is a need for more information to be provided to families about prosthetic legs. Information like where to find them, and how to use them, especially for young children who are amputees, is needed.

“Growing up, my mother and family didn’t have much support from the public health system about how to cope with my disability.  Today, there is bigger room for support from public health facilities to reach families who are raising amputees. More education about differently-abled people and physical challenges is necessary to eradicate discrimination,” said Phadi.

Disability Rights Awareness month, celebrated in South Africa each year, runs until December 3. – Health-e News 


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