By: Thandiwe Kubere

Maseru- Lesotho National League of the visually impaired persons (LNLVIP) on Friday, held a meeting engagement, discussing issues affecting persons with disability as well as ways to ensure that their human rights are equally observed and respected.

The theme for the engagement, was to educate people about visual disability and to bring light on the challenges encountered by persons with disabilities and how they can be mitigated. One example made, which proved that people visually impaired are not accommodated for, was that documents of national importance and handed programs of events only caters  for those who are not visually impaired since none are written with braille.

Celebrating Human Rights day comes with the responsibility of ensuring that the rights of others are not stepped on and that they lead life according to their preferences, not restricted to participate in societal activities and are treated with the respect they deserve. On that note, it was revealed at the meeting that a country and its society, has the ability to either heighten disability or reduce disability, depending on how allowing and accommodative it is.

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. However, although there were policies put in place to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, they still encounter barriers which restrict them. Those include not being able to access proper jobs regardless of their capabilities, good education, appropriate health care, justice and equal treatment as members of the society.

Explaining on Human Rights based definition towards disability, Mr. Keketso Mangope said disability is a complex, evolving concept and that disability results from interactions between persons with impairments and attitudinal environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society. The term “disability” covers a broad range and degree of conditions. A disability may have been present at birth, caused by an accident, or developed over time.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) defines persons with disabilities to include those who have long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments, which in interaction with environmental, attitudinal, or other  various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. This is a clear recognition that persons with disabilities are equal and valuable members of society and should be recognized in all aspects of life.

This definitions shift the focus away from individuals’ impairments towards environmental and social barriers that impede the participation of persons with impairments in the society.

He further enlightened that persons who are disabled struggle to find jobs because employers do not believe they are able to carry out work efficiently just as people who are not disabled. Therefore, those with disability often have to compromise on accepting jobs beneath their qualifications because they are frequently given compensating jobs which do not require little to no skills regardless of their abilities and qualifications.

With regard to law and justice, Mangope indicated that for quite a long time, there were no clear laws or policies put in place, for the appropriate approach and handling of matters affecting people with disability. “However, the justice system in Lesotho made policies which serve as guidelines and proper approach towards different kinds of disabilities.”  As part of giving the disabled back their voices, The Persons with Disability Equity Act was enacted on 12 March 2021 in order to provide for equal opportunities and recognition of rights of persons living with disabilities in Lesotho. Again, the disability equity and court rules was established this year in May which seeks to ensure that justice is served and that they are able to witness and defend cases affecting them.

Over the years, there has been an evident act of prominent members of the society who want gain more favor with people, by donating to persons with disability in public spaces. Mangope further noted that people are disabled by the society due to how it treats them. He declared it is wrong for people to often treat those who are disabled differently and as cases of charity who need hand-outs instead of giving them the equal chance of working jobs they deserve, so that they as well can provide for their families. “We deemed it wise to sensitize the nation of this because we have often realized disabled people being grouped in a home and everyone who apparently wishes to ‘unlock’ their blessings donates to them, not taking into consideration what they really need or how they feel about being put up for show as subjects to charity. This means their importance as people is not considered, they are viewed as subjects of pity and charity.

He also mentioned that visually impaired children still struggle to get their right to education because there are only a few schools which admit and accommodate them in terms of the equipment they need for learning. He stated that the rights of people with disability do not differ from those who are not disabled but what differs is their reach and approach. “Just as every child has a right to education, children who are disabled similarly have that right but what differs is the material used for learning.

Over and above, the human rights model recognizes that: Disability is a natural part of human diversity that must be respected and supported in all its forms. People with disability have the same rights as everyone else in society. Impairment must not be used as an excuse to deny or restrict people’s rights

LNLVIP is a non-governmental, non-profit making organization of the visually impaired persons of Lesotho which was established in 1986. Activities of LNLVIP include advocating for the rights of the visually impaired persons in Lesotho; ensuring access to education; creating a vocational center to teach life skills to the visually impaired and to facilitate their employment and work placement.

The organization is mandated to promote, protect and advocate for fair recognition of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of the visually impaired persons into all public services and to provide opportunities that improve quality of life for the visually impaired to reach their full potential. The organization is also accountable to sensitize the society about visual impairment and influence the government chambers to contribute in raising public awareness for the society to understand disability better. It has representation in all the 10 districts of Lesotho in a form of branches and sub-branches.

LNLVIP runs a number of projects, and one of them is the Eye Health Care. “For the eye health care we have an ophthalmologist, a medical responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of eye and vision problems”, he said.  The ophthalmologist performs eye exams, diagnoses and treats eye diseases, as well as perform surgery when necessary. He highlighted that the organization signed the memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Health that the ophthalmologist sees to it that the rate of vision impairment is reduced in the country and to as well educate students in nursing colleges about the disability and how it can be lessened.  

All persons, in all their diversity, are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and should be free to live their chosen life, thrive socially and economically, and participate in public affairs.