By Thandiwe Kubere

MASERU – Lesotho National Federation of the Disabled and World Vision Lesotho, as part of efforts aimed at removing barriers and engaging persons with disabilities in all spheres of work and life, in order to achieve sustainable and transformative progress on disability inclusion, shared on the appropriate approach regarding people with disabilities such that they equally enjoy their human rights in a world that is socially acceptable.

People with disabilities, have a right to living life to its best capacity and equally receiving respect. They have a right to participate in societal activities and their voices matter as well. As part of promoting and protecting rights of persons with disabilities, representing LNFOD, Kopano Tsilonyane educated that issues relating to people with disabilities should be handled sensitively and appropriately, such that they do not feel unaccepted or discriminated. He signified this by highlighting that the concept of ‘inclusion’ is the core part of the sustainable development goals (SDGS) agenda 2030, which aims to ensure that no one is left behind.

People have many different characteristics and these can create layers of exclusion.  Everyone’s experience is different. Social exclusion takes place when a person is unable to participate in social, economic, political, and cultural activities. A Person may be excluded from participating due to a number of reasons: including lack of financial resources, not being able to access education or hostile community treatment due to one’s characteristics.

Social inclusion, on the other hand means attempts made to overcome all the causes of exclusion in order to ensure that all people can benefit and participate in society, regardless of their characteristics. Characteristics including: age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, caste, and religion have all been the cause for social exclusion in different places around the world.

Mr Kopano declared that disability inclusion is important as disability is common and is part of life. Out of 7 people in the world, one has a disability. According to WHO 2011 world disability report, 15% of the world population has some form of disability.

Explaining he said, “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. He added that Lesotho Persons with Disability Equity Act has adopted the same definition of disability, which is, impairment plus barriers equals disability. These can either be long term or temporary.”

He explained that it has been frequent that the rights of people with disabilities have been unconsidered or marginalized. Over the years they have been experiencing discrimination from society. He further enlightened disability based discrimination as; any distinction, exclusion, or restriction on the basis of disability which has the purpose or effect of nullifying the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on an equal basis with others, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field. It includes all forms of discrimination, including denial of reasonable accommodation- which is necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments where needed in a particular case, to ensure that persons with disabilities receive the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others. Such discrimination may be witnessed when a building has many floors which has stairs only and people are to meet on a particular upper floor, without considering how a person on a wheelchair will be a part of such a meeting.

Moreover, many issues are to be considered to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are protected.  Language and tone when addressing persons with disabilities has an impact, whether positive or negative as it helps shape perception of the world around us. This language has evolved over time, and lingo commonly used over the years is no longer acceptable.

Therefore, according to the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, launched in 2019, it is important to raise awareness about appropriate language when talking to or about persons with disabilities as inappropriate language often causes one to feel excluded, discriminated and can be a barrier to full and meaningful participation. By adopting language that celebrates diversity, there is further contribution on strengthening human rights model of disability and help in creating a more inclusive environment. Similarly, inclusive language is a key tool in combating misguided and biased understanding of disability, which often leads to the assumption that the lives of persons with disabilities are not worth living.

The guidelines prepared by the United Nations Office at Geneva as part of efforts to implement the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy state that the appropriate language to use is a People-first language. The language approach emphasizes the person, not the disability, by placing a reference to the person or group before the reference to the disability. For example, expressions such as “children with albinism”, “women with intellectual disabilities” and, of course, “persons with disabilities” are appropriate to use.

However, the guidelines further state the people-first rule does not necessarily apply to all types of disabilities. There are some exceptions. For example, persons who are blind, can be referred to as “blind persons” or “persons who are blind”, and the same applies to deaf or deaf-blind persons. Moreover, if in doubt, the person or group should be asked how they choose to identify. These identities should be respected and recognized. However, as this rich diversity of identities may hinder efforts to establish unified terminology, these guidelines recommend terminology that is commonly used and accepted.

In addition, disability is a part of life and of human diversity, and should not be regarded as something to be dramatized or sensationalized. It is not right therefore, to portray persons with disabilities as inspirational or extraordinary as that may imply it is unusual for persons with disabilities to be successful, productive and to live happy and fulfilling lives. According to UNDIS guidelines, descriptions of persons with disabilities as “courageous” or “brave” or as having “overcome” their disability are patronizing and should be avoided. Persons with disabilities are the same as everyone else in terms of talents and abilities. Although some terms are widely understood and used, many people consider them inappropriate and some find it offensive.

Furthermore, the portrayal of persons with disabilities as intrinsically vulnerable is inappropriate as everyone can be vulnerable due to a number of situations or circumstances. Some persons with disabilities may be more vulnerable than the rest of the population to certain crimes, such as gender-based violence, but less vulnerable to others, such as identity theft. When the specific barriers and circumstances causing vulnerability are addressed, they are no longer vulnerable.

Moreover, labelling people and mentioning their disability or impairment unless it is relevant, particularly in internal communications and emails should be avoided. Rather, it is important to focus on a person’s skills or requirements, and a person’s impairment can only be pointed when it brings clarity or provides useful information. Positive and empowering language should be used at all times.

Lesotho is a state party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities since 2nd December 2008 and it adopted the National Disability policy in 2021 and National Disability Mainstreaming plan in 2015 which was revised in 2020, Lesotho’s inclusive education policy of 2018. Moreover, Bureau of statistics 2016 population housing report revealed that 2.5% of the population of Lesotho constitutes persons with disabilities. According to the 2018 MICS results, 8.2% of children ages 2 to 4 have a functional difficulty, in the areas of seeing, hearing, walking, fine motor, communication, learning, playing, or controlling behaviour.

Concluding, Mr. Kopano urged people to be disability sensitive and accommodating as this will help in avoiding humiliation and discrimination. It further helps in being objective and promotes acknowledgement of one’s rights and dignity.