Young people with disabilities speak out 

Source: Young people with disabilities speak out | The Herald 03 MAR, 2020

Young people with disabilities speak out

Roselyne Sachiti Features, Health & Society Editor

Young persons with disabilities (PWDs) continue to face discrimination and find it difficult to access sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) at most public health facilities.

This has resulted in most disabled persons failing to access basic information on contraception, prevention of HIV and sexually transmitted infections and maternal health services, among others.

They also often fail to access education in the public education system, with most learning in specialised institutions as teachers do not have adequate training.

At the just-ended 6th Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development in Victoria Falls,  young people with disabilities, like Patience Muronzi, outlined their challenges and how these had a negative impact on the attainment of sustainable development goals (SDGs) 3, 4 and 8.

“You cannot talk about anything with a person that is not healthy. The major challenge for PWDs is good health that is in line with SDG 3,” she said during a side event, “Youth Driven Transformation of Africa through Agenda 2030 and 2063”. When they seek medical help, the disabled are usually judged on, for example, how they contracted a sexually-transmitted infection as society views them as a group that does not indulge in sexual activities.

Such discrimination results in them staying away from public health facilities.

Doctors and other service providers often fail to respect the right to privacy of young people with disabilities when attending to them.

“My friend in his 30s with a visual impairment went to visit a doctor. His father left the room to give him and the doctor privacy. After running tests, the doctor called the father to tell him what he had discovered about my friend. My friend asked the doctor why he was disregarding his right to privacy. We would appreciate if our health service providers would talk to PWDs without involving other people,” Muronzi suggested.

While statistics say that women who have acquired tertiary education are more likely to seek maternal services and deliver in a health facility with skilled personnel, those with disabilities often miss out and in some cases develop complications during childbirth.

According to the United Nations Population Fund East and Southern Africa Region (UNFPA ESARO, about 80 percent of all persons with disabilities live in developing countries, with 15 percent of Africans estimated to have moderate to severe disabilities.

Young persons with disabilities are three times more likely than non-disabled people to suffer physical, sexual and emotional violence.

Globally, 20 million women become disabled each year as a result of complications during pregnancy or childbirth, such as obstetric fistula.

Between 180 and 220 million young people aged 10 to 24 years old live with mental, intellectual, physical or sensorial disabilities.

If anything, their situation is worsened by laws, policies and attitudes that fall short of protecting their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Clearly, young persons with disabilities represent a segment of society that is left behind. In many instances, they are a group left furthest behind when it comes to access to basic services.

Most PWDs are also not able to get basic education as some families have a tendency of thinking that a child without a disability has more potential than a child with a disability.

For instance, some learning institutions fail to provide ramps for easy access by young PWDs.

Added Muronzi: “We also have challenges with teachers being trained in colleges, but are not capacitated to deal with a child having a basic episode of epilepsy. If that teacher cannot assist a child with epilepsy, we cannot talk of sign language and braille.”

As such, if SDG 4, Quality Education, is not realised, then talking about achieving SDG 8, employment becomes increasingly hard.

No employer wants to hire unqualified people. Competition is already stiff for educated disabled people and worse for those without any form of education.

With such challenges, it becomes vital to have a progressive discussion to ensure no disabled person is left behind in SRHR and quality education.

It is important to look at how inclusion works for and against PWDs.

As the State of World Population 2017 report, “Worlds Apart: Reproductive health and rights in an age of inequality” puts it, enabling young persons with disabilities to realise their sexual and reproductive health and rights  including their ability to prevent sexual abuse, early and unintended pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections will, in turn, help to ensure that other rights are realised, such as their right to education, economic opportunities, financial independence, and social empowerment.