BY Sean Ngoma
“…in the Zimbabwe National Youth Policy, the definition of youth will refer to 10-30 year olds irrespective of their gender, race, colour, religion, political affiliation, marital status, physical or mental disability.”
Hence the Zimbabwe National Youth Policy is inclusive of youths with disabilities and does not necessarily view them as different from other youths except in the areas where they need special attention. It does not discriminate and intends to offer them leverage for equal opportunity.
Although the Policy facilitates that disabled youths not be viewed as any different from their able bodied peers it should be considered that for disabled youths to reach their full potential they have to be put at a certain advantage. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is inclusive of this consideration in Article 24 (2. d) “Persons with disabilities receive the support required, within the general education system, to facilitate their effective education;”. The Zimbabwe National Youth Policy has realized the need to support the education of disabled youths. The Inclusive Education Manual is evidence that youths with disabilities have been leveraged in terms of education. This was a program developed by the Leonard Cheshire Zimbabwe Trust and the Ministry of Youth Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment in 2010 to encourage the enrolment of students who were previously excluded on the basis of their disability as well as teach school staff how to handle learners with disabilities.
Another program initiated by passage of the Zimbabwe National Youth Policy is the Inclusive Education Project which has enrolled more than 1000 children with disabilities in mainstream primary schools in the Mashonaland West Province as well as to educate parents of disabled youths on how to advocate on behalf of their children. Schools enrolling students with mental and sensory disabilities are paid a higher grant for each child with a disability that they enroll. If the number of students with disabilities attending an ordinary school reaches seven for students with visual impairment or hearing impairment or ten for students with mental retardation, the government deploys a special needs teacher at that school to assist with the teaching. Zimbabwe is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa with a Schools Psychological Services and Special Needs Department whose responsibility it is to identify, assess, and place students with disabilities in schools.
In terms of health the United Nations Convention the Rights of Persons with Disabilities “..recognizes that persons with disabilities have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of disability.” (Article 25) to which the Zimbabwe National Youth Policy and other disability-focused legislation has conceded. As compared to most southern African nations Zimbabwe has nine large state rehabilitation centres covering developmental and acquired disabilities and psychiatric disabilities in addition to the country’s 10 provincial hospitals which all have a rehabilitation unit (according to National Foundation of the Disabled, 2004).
The standard of living for youths with disabilities has generally improved since the turn of the 21st Century (the Zimbabwe National Youth Policy having been implemented in 2001). Zimbabwe has been referred to as “one of the most disability-accessible countries in Africa” (African Rehabilitation Institute, 1998) with greater availability of disability-friendly public transportation policies, disability legislation (the The Disabled Persons Act for example), vocational training (Danhiko) and employment opportunities of persons with disabilities as compared to neighboring countries. The country stands alone in sub-Saharan Africa for having disability legislation. The Disabled Persons Act of Zimbabwe was enacted in 1994 for the purpose of enhancing the educational, social and occupational interests of Zimbabweans with disabilities. The Disabled Persons Act of Zimbabwe, among other things, mandates a National Disability Board whose purpose it is to help with advising on issues relating to people with disabilities
However most of the support offered to youths with disabilities in Zimbabwe can arguably be labelled as mere formalities and actual groundwork to level the field for disabled youths has not been laid. In the education sector for example, youths with disabilities have schools reserved specially for them, for example the school for the hearing impaired in Emerald Hill, and there are very few schools where youths faced with disabilities actually interact with their able bodied peers. This breeds a certain aura of separation and both groups may find it difficult to interact in real life situations.
In terms of health, the Zimbabwean government is not fully comprehensive of youths that are affected with disabilities. These youths are not fully supported and there is a shortage of facilities that can fully cater for their needs. Harare’s largest hospital was unable to provide essential equipment for disabled youths earlier into 2016 and when they were able to the rates they charged for the equipment was too high for most youths.