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Shedding Light on the Rights and Needs of the Disabled

by Thaabit Kamaar
Photo by [Independent Online]


The National Disability Rights Awareness Month is held annually from November 3 to December 3 in South Africa.

According to the Government, “The Disability Awareness Month offers an opportunity for all of us to remove barriers and to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities through concrete action”.

The theme of this year’s event is to empower individuals with disabilities through resourceful and sustainable environments, with various workshops and activities conducted throughout the month.

However, Alan Downey points out that access to various environments such as workplaces, restaurants and shopping malls remains a primary concern of impaired South African citizens.

Downey was physically impaired after a diving accident in 1994. Today, he is the founder and executive director of Disability info South Africa.

As specified by their website, “Disability info South Africa (DiSA) was started in 2015 by Alan Downey to provide a Free Disability Information Portal which not only gives easy access to information via our website but also through our free contact centre, offering advice and guidance to those in need’’.


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Developing the DiSA Portal

The creation of the DiSA website stems from a realisation that Downey had regarding the lack of information concerning various disabilities in the country.

After many years of research and development, he created the site to bring awareness and provide accessible information to people with impairments in the hopes of making their lives easier and more inclusive in society.

The site provides information that is divided into four groups which includes mobility, hearing, visual and intellectual impairments. The design allows users to gather extensive information on specific impairments effortlessly.

“If you visit our website, you will see we’ve divided into four impairment groups to make it a bit easier for the man in the street or the woman in the street to be able to understand exactly what they’re looking for’’.

Inaccessibility to Various Environments

With the lack of information, Downey realised impaired individuals experience a lack of access to social environments.

Inaccessibility to certain environments not only affects the impaired individual but their family and friends as well. It creates a situation where people have been isolated from the rest of society, Downey said.

Speaking on his challenges and experiences, “It doesn’t just affect me, it affects my family. If I want to go to a restaurant or they want to go to a restaurant and it’s inaccessible, the only option is to go to another restaurant or to leave me at home’’.

Downey said people with impairments have the same rights as ordinary people and, as such, are entitled to the same level of access and inclusivity as everyone else.

However, impaired individuals are restricted by the lack of modifications required in building infrastructures and regulations, which according to Downey, is what truly disables them.

“People with disabilities want to work, they want to earn a living and want to take part in society. Unfortunately, disabilities are described as somebody with an impairment that is restricted by society from taking part and that is what causes a disability”.

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