Following the publication of the Copac Final Draft Constitution, NASCOH continues to be inundated with calls from people with disabilities across the whole social spectrum who view the disability provisions as skewed and lacking in a number of respects that impinge on the success of disability inclusion efforts in the country. Issues that have been raised include, among a host of other issues, a skewed definition of disability, inadequate recognition of sign language, an apologetic commitment to disability inclusion, and inadequate recognition of the multifaceted rights of people with disabilities.
Section 2.12 (1) of the draft states that “All state and government institutions and agencies at every level must recognize the rights of persons living with physical and mental disabilities, in particular their right to be treated with respect for their dignity as human beings.” While this provision is well-intentioned, by referring only to persons living with physical and mental disabilities, the draft constitution runs the risk of alienating other disability categories. The draft constitution would do well to be guided by the definition of disability provided in the Disabled Persons Act of 1992 which refers to “disabled person” as a person with a physical, mental or sensory disability, including a visual, hearing or speech functional disability, which gives rise to physical, cultural or social barriers inhibiting him from participating at an equal level with other members of society in activities, undertakings or fields of employment that are open to other members of society;
This is an all-encompassing definition of disability which leaves room for no equivocation and which all categories of people with disabilities would find satisfactory. Furthermore, the term “people living with disabilities” is a term that does not go down well with the majority of people with disabilities. A number of callers indicated that the term is a throwback to the medical model of disability, which looks at disability as a disease and not as a social construct. While it would make perfect sense to refer to ‘people living with HIV’, as HIV is a disease, it obviously would not be proper to refer to ‘people living with disabilities in the same vein.
Section 6 (1) states that “All the indigenous languages of Zimbabwe and English are the official languages of Zimbabwe.” Although, in section 6 (5), the section goes on to say that “The state must promote and advance the use of all languages used in Zimbabwe, including sign language, and must create conditions for the development of these languages” , people with disabilities feel that the constitution missed a vital opportunity to legitimize sign language by making it an official language of the country. Sign language is the language through which people with hearing impairments communicate, and official recognition of sign language would usher in vistas of inclusion opportunities for people with hearing impairments.
Section 4.35, which deals with the rights of persons (living) with disabilities says that “The State must take appropriate measures to ensure that persons (living) with disabilities realize their full mental and physical potential including measures – (a) to enable them to become self-reliant; to enable them to live with their families and participate in social, creative or recreational activities; to protect them from all forms of exploitation; and (d) to give them access to medical, psychological and functional treatment. While the foregoing rights are important, it is pertinent to note that people with disabilities are subjected to an all-encompassing lack of access to fundamental rights and freedoms that other people in society take for granted including, civil, political and economic rights. Not surprisingly, people with disabilities feel that it is parochial for the constitution to focus on only a few rights whilst leaving out a host of equally important, in not more important rights. They feel that the constitution should take a holistic approach to the issue of rights of people with disabilities.
The current constitution making process provides a vital opportunity to set the tone for national inclusion of people with disabilities in all facets of life and it is necessary that disability inclusion be entrenched as fully as possible into the constitution. A logical starting point would be the addressing of the concerns that have raised in this statement.