Believe in Us, Include Us!: Amplifying the Voices of Children with Disabilities

The third of December is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This year the day was marked by the theme; “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities towards an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post Covid-19 world.” Participation is key when it comes to unlocking the leadership potential that is inherent within many persons with disabilities.

Though a key element of inclusion, participation of persons with disabilities still remain low in the mainstream development agenda. More often than not persons with disabilities are merely consulted on what they want, they are hardly included in any processes or and decisions that have to do with obtaining the final outcome. This often results in half baked interventions that hardly solve the problem at hand, rather it leads the creation of other problems, such as lack of ownership by the intended consumers of the interventions.

In disability circles there is a very popular saying; “Nothing for us without us!” Sadly over the years this saying has slowly began loosing it’s effectiveness as so many things for persons with disabilities have been done for them without necessarily including them. However 2021 has seen a glimmer of hope arise for persons with disabilities through the promulgation of the National Disability Policy which was launched by His Excellency Dr E.D Mnangagwa the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

The policy is quite rich in terms of provisions of ensuring that persons with disabilities are empowered and included in the mainstream society. An example is a clause that stipulates that all private and public companies must ensure that persons with disabilities constitute 15% of the total human resource. This automatically translates to greater employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Children with disabilities are a large proportion of people with disabilities in Zimbabwe. Though this is the case they are largely left out of the mainstream society as they do not have many platforms and or opportunities to highlight and discuss their concerns. Due to their extreme exclusion children with disabilities often suffer from various forms of horrendous abuse in silence.

Enhancing Community Voices Trust (E.C.V.T) a community based publishing organization is however making a remarkable difference in terms of giving a voice to children with disabilities who otherwise would have remained voiceless. Recently, through support from NORAD and UNICEF(2021) and in cooperation with some local disability agencies, the organization embarked on an ambitious project to write a book with 100 children with disabilities. What an amazing initiative indeed.

The project employs a participatory approach which includes 10 groups of 10 children with disabilities from 6 provinces of Zimbabwe including remote areas such as Sanyati from Mashonaland West Province. ECV formulated guidelines for coordinating the process of developing the book. Through assistance from community facilitators ,children with disabilities gave creative input into developing the book which is then captured by the facilitators and subsequently relayed to the editors of the book.

The team also includes Mr T.K Tsikai, a man with disability and founder of ThisAbility Hub. Mr Tsikai’s role in the process is to ensure that the process of developing the book is disability sensitive. Mr Tsikai being a specialist in the area has vast experience and his input has added value to the process thus far. Apart from him the team in Harare is comprised of 7 professional and passionate team members who are well versed in the issues to do with children’s rights and the participatory approach of programming.

The book is now in the final stages of drafting, though it has not been finalized the process of developing the book has had such a positive impact on children with disabilities who were assisting in the process of it’s development. So many participants report an improvement in self-esteem after having attended the drafting meeting. Others report an improvement in interpersonal relationships with their significant others, and others also have been identified as having natural talents. As the children said, “we are happy because we could talk about what was deep in our hearts, an opportunity we have never had before.”

The book covers the lives of children with disabilities, the barriers they face, their ideas on how to remove barriers and their messages of hope. Apart from the book ECV will produce 5 bulletins by children including one in Braille, 5 posters, and an audio and video. Once again we are realizing the vision of; “Nothing for us without us!”, through this wonderful and very inclusive process being led by the Enhancing Community Voices Trust. Which is in line with the theme of 2021 International Day of Persons with Disabilities that puts an emphasis on the participation of people with disabilities.

Source: ThisAbility Hub

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