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Make facilities accessible to people with disabilities

by Lesotho Times
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ISSUES of disability will always be with us and it is within our interest as society to embrace this reality.

How accommodative is our environment to people with disabilities?

Do we think about them when we plan our roads, buildings and other public places?

Are people with disabilities able to buy freely from our shops?

Disability knows no age, race, economic status or gender.

It can come to us any minute.

One can have access to the best surgeons but will still be exposed to the vicissitudes in life.

Let me illustrate these points by relating a story of a young, wheelchair-bound girl who lives at a home for people with disabilities here in Maseru.

The girl is among the lucky few who have a motorised wheelchair. But she still faces numerous challenges.

Every day she fights to overcome barriers in her environment.

The girl has stayed at the home for as long as she can remember.

She attended a high school in Maseru.

When she completed her studies she had to send someone to collect her testimonial from the principal’s office up-stairs.

During her five years in high school, the girl never had an opportunity to visit the principal’s office.

She also never had an opportunity to go up the podium in the school hall.

A flight of stairs made it virtually impossible for her to do so.

The girl is currently studying at a local college.

Even there, the facilities are not meant for people with disabilities.

She has to crawl to use the toilets in the dormitories.

This is quite degrading.

The use of the toilet is a daily necessity that cannot be postponed. 

On the streets she competes for space with rude taxi drivers because our pavements are cramped with vendors’ stalls.

There are no ramps on the edges of these pavements.

The pavements at our bus termini are also not accessible. Travelling during peak hour is a nightmare for her.

Like all young girls she also enjoys shopping.

But the shops do not have facilities to cater for the disabled. Her wheelchair cannot fit into the fitting rooms.

The shelves and racks in shops are packed so close to each other that she cannot manoeuvre her wheelchair around.

Recently, the girl applied for industrial attachment at the Ministry of Tourism.

She could not personally deliver her application and had to send a friend to hand over the application letter.

This is a government ministry and yet she cannot access it for the sole reason that she has a disability.

The special education office at the headquarters of the Ministry of Education and Training is inaccessible as well. She has to seek help.

The podiums at Radio Lesotho offices and the Convention Centre in Maseru are not accessible for people with disabilities.

I need not stress that these facilities are for all Basotho.

When she goes to the bank, she cannot use the bank’s ATM unless she gets help to go up the ramp.

The gradient is so steep that she needs help to go up to the machine.

It is sad that there is no act that specifically demands that public buildings in Lesotho cater for the rights of the disabled.

The 1995 Buildings Control Act is mainly targeting the new buildings but nothing is being done about the old ones.

Lesotho, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, should ensure that we cater for the rights of people with disabilities.

People with disabilities want to see changes in these areas.

Our buildings, offices and workplaces should be able to accommodate people with disabilities so that they can work side by side with individuals without disabilities.

It is all about empathising with people with disabilities and imagining ourselves in their situation.

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