One thing you’ll notice about Simon Manda, when you see him is that he does not have a physical disability.
However, he’s taken on a big advocacy role for people with disabilities, by making the general public understand one simple thing.
“You are not defined by your disability, but you are defined by your humanity,” said Manda, adding that, “we are all people at the end of the day.”
‘Teach A Majority About A Minority’
To drive home this message, Manda co-founded ThisAbility Newpaper in 2011, as a platform for people with disabilities to, not only share their triumphs and challenges, but also show their faces, which are splashed on the front page, to rubberstamp the point that they are equal beings.
“I realized that there was no media platform that was talking mainstream, disability issues,” said Manda.
Manda, who was born and raised in the Manicaland Provincial capital of Mutare, in Zimbabwe, but now lives in South Africa, said the paper serves as a vehicle of information for those not affected by a disability.
“You want to teach a majority about a minority, so what you do, you do it in small steps, you talk about the ability that someone has,” Manda explained.
Through his ThisAbility Newspaper Manda said he hoped to help change the perception of people with disabilities, whom he said tend to be viewed from two extremes – either poverty-stricken, dependent victims or super heroes like South African 2012 Olympic aspirant Oscar Pistorius, who is also referred to as the ‘blade runner’ due to his prosthetic legs.
Manda said his paper aimed to show those in between.
“So we wanted to showcase that in-between there’s somebody living an everyday life, achieving in their own space despite an impairment they might have,” he said.
He said the paper further aimed to raise awareness around inequality, by showing that part of the reason so many people with disabilities are disempowered, has more to do with access that ability.
“Basically informing the world that what is wrong with the world is not an impairment, but the disenabling environment that we find in society,” Manda said.
While people with disabilities are guaranteed access to education, jobs, buildings and other necessities through charters and treaties such as the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Manda said the rights are not always enforced in countries like Zimbabwe or South Africa where he currently lives.
In this regard, Manda said governments still have a long way to go to create a better environment for people living with disabilities and also to educate citizens to stop seeing disability as a medical issue that needs special attention as opposed to equal accommodation.
“Because societal attitude is still in that medical viewpoint, they think its not an important issue at all.”
To raise awareness about the lives of people with disabilities on the continent, Manda, who runs a program at the National Council for Persons of Physical Disabilities, said he tries to seek out affected people, who can help articulate the issues around disabilities, and raise awareness around the continent.
Partnering with Prudence Mabhena
From his country Zimbabwe, Manda identified Prudence Mabhena, a Zimbabwean with a disability, who’s talent as a singer and songwriter for her band Liyana, was captured in a 2010 Oscar-winning documentary titled Music by Prudence.
“Because of the research that I have been doing in creating profiles across Africa, I came across her and we had an opportunity to meet here in South Africa. I appointed her as one of the casual day ambassadors.”
Manda said he’s hopeful that attitudes toward people with disabilities will change for the better in Zimbabwe, South Africa and throughout the continent, through the general media and his ThisAbility Newspaper in particular.
Manda said forging partnerships at events such as the recent African Media Leaders Forum (AMLF) - a flagship of the Africa Media Initiative - in South Africa, will go a long way towards meeting his goal.