South Africa: Include People With Disabilities in Implementation of Economic Development Policies

President Cyril Ramaphosa says people with disabilities must be involved in conceptualising, developing, implementing and monitoring economic development policies and programmes.

The President was speaking at the Summit on Economic Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, held in Kempton Park, Ekurhuleni, on Thursday.

Delivering the keynote address, President Ramaphosa emphasised that society’s responsibility is not only to protect persons with disabilities from harm, but also to ensure that they are able to realise their full potential and live lives of comfort, security and material well-being.

“To exercise one’s economic rights, one must be able to actively and equally participate in economic activities. One must have access to land, capital, infrastructure and decent work.

“This cannot take place in isolation, but must be part of structural change in the economy that will unlock growth and allow for development,” President Ramaphosa said.

The two-day summit, held on 7 and 8 December 2022, forms part of the Disability Rights Awareness Month (DRAM) which runs from 3 November to 3 December each year, and is coordinated by the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities.

This year’s DRAM is observed under the theme “Empowering persons with disabilities through resourceful, sustainable and safe environments”.

The President said the summit seeks to advance economic justice, to create opportunities for all people to achieve financial independence and reduce income inequality.

He called on all social partners and participants in the summit to work together to achieve certain outcomes, which include the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability across the employment value chain, and that persons with disabilities have equal access to just and favourable conditions of work.

He further called on the partners to work together to enable persons with disabilities to access technical and vocational guidance programmes, placement services and continue training.

“We must promote – in an active and deliberate manner – employment opportunities and career advancement for persons with disabilities. This requires appropriate policies, which may include affirmative action programmes, incentives and other measures.

“We also need to mobilise our collective resources – both public and private – to promote opportunities for self-employment, entrepreneurship and the development of cooperatives. For its part, government has introduced targeted programmes on economic empowerment that include a procurement target of 7% for companies owned and run by persons with disabilities,” the President said.

The conditions for economic empowerment must be created before individuals enter the labour market or look to start their own business.

“We need to provide quality inclusive education for children with disabilities. This entails improving and strengthening reasonable accommodation support measures for learners in both special and ordinary schools.

“We must ensure that children with disabilities in ordinary schools have accessible learning materials no matter where the school is located. The government has developed a process to review Education White Paper 6 on Inclusive Education towards developing full-service schools and inclusive methods in mainstream schools,” the President said.

He noted that since the location of responsibility for the rights of persons with disabilities was transferred from the Department of Social Development to the Presidency, there has been important progress to address these deficiencies.

The areas of focus include advancing communication methods and developing practical technological solutions for persons with disabilities.

National Disability Rights Machinery

To improve self-representation in decision-making, President Ramaphosa said government has created a consultative platform through the national disability rights machinery, provincial disability forums and representation in local government.

He explained that the Presidential Working Group on Disability works directly with the Presidency on consultation and mandates on legislation and policy.

“As government, we have a responsibility to work with all social partners to empower persons with disabilities and improve their quality of life. This is important for the advancement of a free and just society.

“Our Constitution emphasises that everyone is equal before the law and has equal protection and benefit of the law. No person, including the State and private companies, may unfairly discriminate against any person on grounds such as race, gender, belief, age or disability,” President Ramaphosa said.

At a practical level, this means removing barriers that impede the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in all areas of public life, he said.

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