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Dec 19, 2022

Disability is defined as “a physical or mental condition that makes it difficult for somebody to do some things that most other people can do.” You can be born with a disability or a disability may occur later in your life. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 1.3 billion people “experience significant disability”.

Disabilities may include, but are not limited to:

  • blindness or vision impairment
  • deafness or hearing loss
  • conditions related to spinal cord injuries
  • cerebral palsy
  • depression
  • Down syndrome
  • dementia

Challenges faced
Environmental and personal factors play a significant role in how people with disabilities experience everyday life and how their medical needs are met.

Factors, such as negative attitudes towards disabled people, as well as inaccessible environments and transportation, may greatly limit those with a disability to participate equally in society than those without a disability. Many with disabilities especially face unfair discrimination when excluded from education and employment opportunities, which could lead to or exacerbate poverty.

In terms of medical needs being met, those who need assistive aids, apparatus and appliances (such a hearing aids, specialised spectacles and/or wheelchairs), but cannot access these benefits due to financial strain or lack of access to adequate healthcare facilities, may experience more limitations than those who do have access.

Persons with disabilities may also be more at risk (in some cases, double the risk than people without disabilities) of developing comorbid conditions. These conditions may include poor oral health, asthma, diabetes, obesity, depression, or stroke. Some disabled people may die up to 20 years earlier than the average expectancy. These risks are increased when there is a lack of access to healthcare facilities and/or healthcare professionals, who have the correct knowledge and understanding of various disabilities.

What can we do?
The South African Human Rights Commission identifies disability as one of seven focus areas “within its mandate to promote, protect, and monitor the realisation of Human Rights in South Africa.”

All members of society can contribute to improving the quality of life of those among us who are disabled. We can accomplish this by:

  • educating ourselves and others on various disabilities (Bestmed’s blog offers useful resources). Learning about different disabilities will help those without a disability to understand and respond to different needs of disabled people.
  • being sensitive and politely asking if a disabled person needs help if they seem to be struggling with something. Never assume that assistance is needed as it may come across as condescending.
  • treating people with disabilities the same as you would treat those who are not disabled. Avoid drawing attention to a disability and include those with a disability in ordinary, everyday conversations and activities.
  • not assuming that someone does not have a disability. Not all disabilities, such as depression, are visible.
  • making sure that our all public and private sector facilities (including schools, workplaces, clinics, hospitals, shopping centres, recreational spaces and government institutions) are accessible to those with disabilities.
  • making sure that policies are in place, according to South African’s Labour Employment Equity Act, so that people with disabilities are not discriminated against in the workplace.

Oxford Learners Dictionaries. 2022. Disability. Available [Online]: https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/disability?q=disability. [Accessed: 13 December 2022].
Perfect Life Span. 2022. 5 Ways to empower people with disabilities. Available [Online]: https://perfectlifespan.com/2022/07/20/5-ways-to-empower-people-with-disabilities/. [Accessed: 19 December 2022].
South African Government. 2022. Disability Rights Awareness Month 2022. Available [Online]: https://www.gov.za/DisabilityRightsAwarenessMonth2022. [Accessed: 12 December 2022].
South African Human Rights Commission. 2016. Disability. Available [Online]: https://sahrc.org.za/index.php/focus-areas/disability-older-persons/disability#sppb-modal-1670929645. [Accessed: 12 December 2022].
World Health Organization. 2022. Sensory functions, disability and rehabilitation. Available [Online]: https://www.who.int/teams/noncommunicable-diseases/sensory-functions-disability-and-rehabilitation. [Accessed: 12 December 2022].
World Health Organization. 2022. Disability. Available [Online]: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/disability-and-health. [Accessed: 12 December 2022].
World Health Organization. 2022. Disability. Available [Online]: https://www.who.int/health-topics/disability#tab=tab_1. [Accessed: 12 December 2022].
World Health Organization. 2022. Disability. Available [Online]: https://www.who.int/health-topics/disability#tab=tab_2. [Accessed: 13 December 2022].

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