Being disabled is not easy in Harare’s Central Business District (CBD) and, thanks to the lack of ramps across the city, it’s worse if you are restricted to a wheelchair.
Many buildings in the city rely on elevators. This is proving to be a big disadvantage for the disabled as they cannot use stairs in the event of an elevator break down, a common occurrence considering the rate of power outages.
According to the Disabled Women’s Support Organisation (DWSO), the disabled constitute 15% of the total population. The Disabled Persons Act of 1992 states that the disabled should have access to any service or amenity ordinarily provided to members of the public. But Harare still has a long way to go to achieve this.
Senzeni Mushungurudzwa (43) a disabled vendor near Charge Office said that access to buildings that one has to use stairs to enter is a nightmare for people like her who use a wheelchair. She said that the lack of ramps was depriving her of her right to choose products of her choice since she cannot gain access to the shops.
“I am forced to rely on other people to purchase what I need, despite the fact that I might have the money. For the fortunate ones who have care givers the situation is a bit easier but for the poor ones like me, it is hard because when you approach someone looking for help even to buy you something in a shop they think you are a beggar,” she bemoaned.
Rejoice Timire of DWSO concurred with Mushungurudzwa, saying that the absence of ramps at public buildings was rendering the disabled ‘useless’ as they are forced to look for help from well-wishers to be carried up or down the stairs.
“It is very tough because being disabled does not mean that you cannot do things for yourself. What causes you to feel useless is the lack of facilities such as ramps, which make access easier. Failing to access a building means the disabled are being discriminated against,” said Timire.
Timire also said that ramps provide a safe passage for the disabled in cases of emergency, saying, “Ramps also help those who use sticks and crutches.”
In an interview with Harare News, His Worship, Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni said that the issue of ramps was a priority if Harare is to be a better city but his office cannot do much due to lack of resources.
“Because of other priorities and preoccupations it has not been given the priority it deserves. At the moment we are pressurised. We have more emergencies and pressing issues. Those ‘nice to have’ things to improve our city have to take a back seat, regrettably,” he said.
The Mayor urged organisations for the disabled to step in to see that all new constructions are in compliance with priorities for the disabled in terms of the laid down laws.
In 1992, Zimbabwe became one of the first countries to adopt disability rights in Africa, with a high-level disability advisor to the president and progressive legislation and policies. A Zimbabwean disability activist was the chairman of Disabled Peoples International (DPI) for many years. This led to the disabled getting benefits from government through monthly grants from the Department of Social Welfare. This pot of money has all but dried up now, leaving many care-giving organisations floundering.
What is your experience? Do you feel discriminated against? Write in and let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org. Reach DWSO on 0714 162 068.
Caption: An unidentified man being helped up the Town House stairs to receive a Cheer Fund donation sometime last year.