Crips season has started in South Africa (#CriptheEvent)
Natalie Johnson

Calls are starting to come in to various organisations in  the disability sector wanting to know “are you doing anything (events) for 3 December?” This is also the time when conference/seminar organisers start looking for Guest Speakers “with a disability” to motivate and inspire others (disabled and those without disabilities).

For the last 27 years or so South Africa has become hooked on commemorative events. These include commemorating an historical or political event or occasion or whatever excuse they can find to host a public event. Included in these events is the obligatory annual commemoration of International Day for Persons with Disabilities on 3 December.

Stock picture of Wheelchair User on what appears to be a wet sidewalk or roadway of some kind

Government departments all try to outdo each other, each wanting to do a “bigger and better” event than the other. People with impairments (disabilities) are bussed in from far and wide to attend these events. Free food parcels and free commemorative t-shirts are handed out to each person as an incentive/reward for attending.

People with disabilities in impoverished communities are so desperate for attention and recognition that they hungrily jump on every available bus made available to them to attend these events. Loud music/entertainment is provided to ensure everyone has a good time (a good party). At the end of the event, each is sent back home to be ignored for the rest of the year.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Commemorative events in and of itself are perfectly fine and have their place in society. Talk shops like seminars, workshops, round-tables, conferences to discuss the needs of the disadvantaged also have their place but why are the disadvantaged only commemorated and recognized once per year?

These events/seminars/conferences/round-tables etc are meaningless to us when the struggle for equal accessible education, accessible housing and accessible transport, accessible employment opportunities, access to health facilities and medical treatment, lack of access to shops, state and private buildings, accessible communication is a daily fight.

Wheelchair User in front of multiple steps into a public building unable to gain access

People with disabilities have to fight to survive everyday just to get through each day yet we are expected to get excited and be grateful for some sort of recognition once per year when the ”shame, we must do something for people with disabilities” comes around.

What people think disabled people want to hear:

  • You’re so inspiring
  • You’re so brave
  • I see you as my equal

What people with disabilities actually want to hear:

  • You’re hired
  • Your medical cover was approved and your medical claim was approved
  • We’re happy to accommodate you
  • You’ve got the promotion/salary increase/bonus

‘Some days I don’t feel inspired. I just want to be in a quiet space and gather my thoughts from wherever they’ve wandered and remind myself I’ve got this. If not today, soon.” Jody Doty © 2021

Telling people that they are special, inspirational and have overcome their disability is not the compliment you think it is. Telling a person with a disability that you don’t see their disability is not the compliment you think it is. The unwillingness to see disability is a devaluation of disability.

New EMU Train stock rolled out in South Africa supposedly disability accessible
(note distance between station platform and train entrance)

So, coming back to the beginning of this post – are we commemorating International Day for Persons with Disabilities on 3 December this year? No! there is nothing to commemorate until we have access to everything that able-bodied people have access to without having to call ahead to ask if my disability will be accommodated.

We don’t want access others imagine is appropriate for disabled people. We want access disabled know work for us. It is a profound injustice that in 2022 disable people still have to ask non-disabled people for access.

Stop treating everything people with disabilities need as a “special need”. Our needs are human needs. “Special needs” are burdensome and devaluing.

Picture of restaurant entrance saying “We cater for everyone” but with a flight of stairs and no wheelchair ramp access

Don’t talk to us about diversity, equity, inclusion, access, accommodation, civil rights, human rights and justice if you are not including people with disabilities. This should not be a debatable or contentious issue.

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