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Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all

03 December 2012

By Commissioner Bokankatla Malatji, SAHRC Commissioner responsible to Disability & Older Persons

South Africa joins the international community in commemorating World Disability Day which is celebrated every year on the 3rd of December. It must be acknowledged that South Africa is a signatory and has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and it is legally bound by the Convention’s provisions. The observance of this day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of the importance of integrating the rights of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

Barriers that are faced by persons with disabilities     
Nonetheless, there are still many barriers that persons with disabilities in South Africa and elsewhere around the world still face. In many ways, persons with disabilities are still excluded from main-stream society and are unable to fully enjoy the rights as conferred to them in the Constitution and laws of the country. Scholars have argued that the growing body of data firmly linking persons with disabilities to extreme poverty and social marginalization gives clear cause both for concern and for the need to ensure that persons with disabilities are systematically included in all interventions and programmes offered by the Government. For instance, in the ongoing water and sanitation hearings held by the SAHRC which are taking place all over the country, it is clear that persons with disabilities are not included in the agenda set by government in the implementation phase of these basic services. Inherently, this leads to inaccessibility of services for persons with disabilities. In the official handover of the Equality Report by South African Human Rights Commission in Braampark, Deputy Minister Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu “stated that approximately 467,000 children with disabilities in South Africa do not have access to education and About 108 ordinary schools in South Africa had been physically upgraded between 2006 and 2011 to ensure compliance with the principles of universal design, and about 94 per cent of children with disabilities aged 7-15 years had attended an educational institution in 2010” Deputy Minister said.

This tells us that a lot still needs to be done by government to improve the manner in which services are delivered to persons with disabilities in the country. 

The Constitution guarantees the progressive realisation of socio-economic rights. This obligation binds the state to take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve realisation of each of these rights. In this regard, specific consideration must be given to how these rights can be actualised progressively for persons with disabilities.

Government compliance
South Africa has a globally recognised and applauded constitution that entrenches and bestows an obligation on the state to progressively realise the implementation of human rights within its available resources, including the rights of persons with disabilities. Government has drafted and implemented laws and policies which are in line with the CRPD in order to legislate the observance of human rights for persons with disabilities. In this regard, Government must be applauded for establishing the Ministry of Women Children and Persons with Disabilities and a corresponding Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women, Children and Persons with Disability in 2009, which amongst others deals specifically with the issues of disability in South Africa.


Following the official hander over the Commission’s Equality Report to the Deputy Minister of Women Children and Persons with Disabilities on the 21 November 2012, the Commission hopes that the Ministry will take special recognition of the recommendations included in this report. The Commission also hopes that through observing the World Disability Day, our society will come to respect persons with disabilities that live amongst us.  The Commission further joins the call to all of us to ensure that the rights of people living with disabilities are given full recognition so that they can live in dignity in the full realisation of their rights.


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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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