Organisations for people with disabilities say Zimbabwean authorities should take urgent steps to improve access to information for those living with disabilities to enable them to live better lives.
The organisations for people living with disabilities say they are concerned the media is not compiling stories that enable ordinary Zimbabweans to understand issues that affect the disabled.
Executive director of the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH), Fambaineni Innocent Magweva, says people with disabilities are failing to access important information that empowers them socially and economically.
“Information is power. Without information you can’t decide the future. The few people who might have access to technological gadgets are the ones who can access information. We could look at an area where we empower people with disabilities to use the social media. Technology is a greater equalizer in terms of accessing information, be it computers or mobile technology,” says Magweva.
He says NASCOH will not allow itself to be overwhelmed by the problem of lack of access to information. He says this year they are going all out to engage journalists and government officials to ensure that people living with disabilities access information.
“You have the majority of people with disabilities who cannot access the technology I am talking about. We need to work with those in the media to package the information to be disseminated to people with disabilities. In the area of policy makers the moment they have concluded a policy we need to sit with them and package it in a way that is accessible to every person with a disability.”
WOMEN WITH DISABILITIES
His sentiments are echoed by Rejoice Timire, chairperson of Women with Disabilities Support Organisation, who says the media needs to portray people living with disabilities in a positive way, instead of the negative stories that are currently being written about them.
“Yet what we want to see is someone with a disability being shown with positive things that they have done. If that person is a farmer they should show that that person has been able to do one, two, three things though the person has a disability. That will give awareness to the country for those with children with disabilities who are not going to school; they will know that if you send your child with a disability to school this child will be somebody in life.”
Timire says women with disabilities, especially those in rural areas, need to be empowered with the right information, through the media.
“When it comes to sexual reproductive health, if you don’t have that information it means your health will be jeopardized. Yet that is a critical issue because we also give birth, we are also affected by HIV, STIs, we also want to protect ourselves from unwanted pregnancy. But if we lack information how are we going to know about all these things. So information is vital to a woman with a disability,” he says.
Group Chief Executive Officer of AB Communications, the multimedia company that owns ZiFM Stereo, Susan Makore, says she feels the media is not reporting fairly on disability issues.
“It’s a problem of the industry broadly, because I think we tend to think stereotypically when we are looking at people with disabilities. We tend to think of women with disabilities when we are doing a disability story. We are not looking at them as sources broadly. That’s a problem in the media. However when its World disability day or when we have games for people with disabilities or special Olympics then we go and actively look for sources both male and female who are living with disabilities.”
Makore says the media should change its perception of people with disabilities and report on their concerns without biases.
“We need to be looking for them as sources for anything because there are agriculturalists, there are scientists, and they are in all spheres of society. So even when we are in manufacturing do we think, okay, in manufacturing what are impediments for them, we rarely do that. But that’s where we need to get to so that we think broadly about people with disabilities and see them as sources across all sectors of the economy or of our lives.”
Secretary General of the National Commission for UNESCO, Dr. Themba Ndlovu, says his organisation is ready to assist the setting up of information kiosks for people living with disabilities in rural areas, that ensure that such people access important information from government and the media.
“Those types of schemes need to be intensified. There shouldn’t be one or two in a district. They should be spread right across so that organisations like UNESCO and other organisations can be able to be part and parcel of programmes which are initiated by the same women who are disadvantaged,” says Ndlovu
Ndlovu says organisations for people with disabilities also need to be proactive and persistent in engaging local and international organisations, including the media, if they are to have meaningful impact.
Lucia Mambure, a mother of a child with cerebral palsy, says the problem of denial of access to information should be addressed first at family level and then at community level, where decisions are made for children with disabilities on what eat, how to dress and other related issues.
According to the United Nations, there are an estimated 1.4 million people living with disabilities in Zimbabwe.