Column: Over the last few years there has been a lot of talk about building the Namibian House and making it an inclusive, inviting, and nurturing place for all. Sadly, I have to say, it’s not as all-encompassing as we like to think. As so often is the case, people with disabilities are neglected, or even worse, are not even given a second thought. This is strange as about five percent (5%) of Namibians, approximately 100,000 people have some form of disability.
We as a society are too quick to assume and in turn, dismiss people with a disability and to be frank, we cast aside anyone that we think strays from what we believe to be the norm. It happens in many ways, but each time it happens it means society throws up another barrier for people who could contribute to the Namibian House in a myriad of ways.
Let us look at our very own Paralympians Joanna Benson and sprinter Ananias Shikongo. Benson was the first Namibian athlete to ever win a gold medal when she ran the 200-meter race in the 2012 London Summer Paralympics. Ananias Shikongo also made history by becoming the first male athlete to win gold for Namibia at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics. There are countless examples where people did not let their disability define them like Stephen Hawking; theoretical physicist, and eminent scientist, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of the most admired U.S. Presidents ever, Harriet Tubman, the legendary abolitionist was known for her work on the Underground Railroad, Ray Charles, was a famous singer, songwriter, pianist and composer who inspired musicians worldwide, and Frida Kahlo, the world-famous artist, they certainly did not let their disability limit them.
Making our society inclusive for those with disabilities involves more than simply encouraging people to take part in everyday activities. It begins with identifying and eliminating barriers to their participation. Creating spaces, places, developing both urban and rural settings that allow people with disabilities to navigate through those spaces. Finally, it also requires making sure that adequate policies are in place which enhances the rights of people with disabilities.
It is the responsibility of both, people with and people without disabilities, to make their society more inclusive. For a society to experience full inclusion, people with disabilities must: (1) be able to fully participate in public life, instead of just observe from the sidelines; (2) be economically active in order to live dignified lives (3) have access to reasonable accommodation at workplaces and at schools (4) enjoy environments that are as accessible as possible, with all barriers in society removed (5) have access to quality and affordable healthcare including assistive devices (6) be provided with accessible communication which caters to various disability types (7) have the right to participate in political activities including elections (8) have access to accessible, reliable and affordable transportation. All these, lead to increased inclusivity for people with disabilities within society.
The benefits of inclusion are many and just a few have been listed here: People with disabilities can fully participate in life at the same level as individuals without disabilities, this creates active citizenship and reduces inequalities within a society. Moreover, inclusion allows people with disabilities to experience a sense of belonging and acceptance from others. Studies reveal that companies that recruit people with disabilities gain access to a diverse, inclusive, and untapped talent pool. Such companies also have greater retention rates and less employee turnover. Including people with disabilities in the labor market as well as in schools encourages greater acceptance of diversity, promotes a more tolerant society, and reduces stigma and discrimination.
Namibia needs to become a fully inclusive society and this means there needs to be space in the Namibian House for everyone. It is essential that we Leave No One Behind (LNOB) and that includes every Namibian!
Written by Mathew Hashoongo:
Chairperson, National Federation of People with Disabilities in Namibia