Those who survive grow in a very discriminative environment being locked in the houses or dog houses, subjected to house chores and other forms of discrimination. In Tanzania about 7.8 per cent of population have some form of a disability.
The enrolment rate in mainland Tanzania for children with disabilities range between 0.1 per cent and 0.5 per cent, with most of them attending education in special schools and a considerable number in inclusive schools.
These schools are not well equipped to provide quality education matching the unique needs of the children with disabilities.
They are characterized by inaccessible infrastructures, absence of assistive devices and technology, lack of appropriate and adequate learning and teaching materials and untrained and unmotivated teachers who also lack class-room based personnel support.
For learners with deafness, the acceptance, harmonization, recognition and usage of Tanzania sign language is still a hindrance towards improving learning outcomes. These factors keep many children with disabilities out of school and those who are lucky to receive education have to endure serious humiliation, name-calling and discrimination from their fellow students, teachers and the community in general.
After graduating people with disabilities (PWDs) are less likely to receive employment mainly because of the employers’ fear to employ them. The fear is caused by taboos, customs and the general pre-conceived ideas about the ability of PWDs to work and deliver results.
Another fear is that an employee who is living with disabilities is costly to keep due to needed accommodations and adjustments matching his/her unique needs. Up to 72.3 per cent of households headed by persons with disabilities depend on income from subsistence agriculture and 14.5 per cent depend on self- employment compared to 65.0 per cent and 21.3 per cent respectively for those without disability. Only 3.1 per cent of persons with disabilities receive income from paid employment.
In Tanzania it is rare to find school based or community-based projects that build the PWDs employment skills as a means to prepare them for employment in formal/informal sector or self-employment. This leaves the employment rate for PWD very low.
A survey conducted by the Comprehensive Community Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT) in Dar es Salaam Region on employment informal sectors shows that only 0.7 per cent of employees in all surveyed companies have a disability of some kind, despite the law requiring a quota of 3 per cent.
Even those who try to employ themselves with some self-talent skills or entrepreneurship still faces discrimination, as many members of community considers it a curse to buy something prepared or sold by PWD.
Only an 18-hour flight and a time difference of seven hour were enough to show a complete different picture on lives of PWDs in another continent. Thanks to Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD) for opportunity to attend the Professional Fellows on Inclusive Disability Employment at the University of Vermont’s Center on Disability and Community Inclusion (CDCI), State of Vermont, USA.
In Vermont I got an opportunity to visit different projects that prepare PWDs for internships and employment opportunities, including the think college, project search, upper valley services, pathways, champlain community services, division for the blind and the visually impaired, department of mental health Vermont, northwestern counseling and support services, vermont center for independent living, and department of disabilities, aging and independent living.
in each visit and with each meeting confirming the previous, I was perplexed about how systematic services for the PWDs are, in the midst of my admiration and in awe of wishing things were alike back home, I came to terms that Tanzania and Vermont are two different states in two different continents with different levels of development and technology, thus comparing the two countries is absolutely unfair.
This disparity disregarding there are key lessons Tanzania can still learn from Vermont.
On PWDs employment I came realize the government support from the first day the child with disability is born is key.
A special person is dedicated just to look at the affairs of the child.
This reduces the burden from family and give them a feeling that they are not alone, hence cultivate the willingness to keep the child and continue to offer support to the child with disability. Supportive and accessible school environment and the right technology allows even children with complex or multiple disabilities to receive quality education.
In transition from high school or university to the employment there several projects that help PWD identify a career path, equip them with employment and self-employment skills, builds their confidence and ability to obtain and keep a job, links them with internships and employment opportunities, provides on job and continuous support.
Employers engagement in form of job creation and job development is also a big component in facilitating employment for PWDs.
Specialized personnel visit employers to get to know what they are doing and try to see if there is a good fit for a PWD to work there. Jobs creation also happens as a job developer learns the business and identifies a gap that if filled can increase productivity and profits and convinces the employer to hire a PWD. Peer support and mentorship also play a useful role. A PWD is paired with a non-disabled or with a fellow PWD who mentors and guides without a sense of being judged or overlooked.
My visit at these projects made me realise how important these programmes were, in a daily routine it felt so good to see young teenagers with disabilities guided to find their career path, equipped with employment skills, linked to internships, attend their internships with great enthusiasm, come back, give and obtain feedback on how best they can improve, go home while greatly looking forward for the next day to continue the learning. It gives them sense of purpose, life and belonging.
My encounter with employers depicted great satisfaction in having PWD as employees not only as a legal compliance but they describe PWD employees as trustworthy, reliable and eager to improve.
They also highlighted that the accommodations or adjustments are not costly and the benefit one gets in having a PWD as an employee is worth it.
Advocacy component is also very strong with strong advocacy groups like Disability Rights Vermont, Green Mountain Self Advocates and Vermont Family Network.
I was honoured to attend and present at the Voices and Choices conference and it was good to see different advocacy groups getting recognized for their strong role in fighting for PWDs rights in every aspect, recognition of allies was also very practical.
The workshop we hosted (I together with my other fellow from Uganda) on Disability in Africa gave us an opportunity to share what disability looks like, and what it means to live with disability in terms of social interaction, education, health care, and employment.
Their take away from us was that, while they strive for more budget allocation on disability services, they should take also time to appreciate the provisions they have because it is not like that in Tanzania or Uganda.
We also made a call for them to continue support the exchange programs based on the narrative that seeing is believing. When young African people with and without disabilities come to learn and see how provisions for PWD should be they become change agents in their home countries.
Likewise, when American disability experts visit Africa they get to experience other types of provisions for PWDs, share best practices which can be adapted to improve provisions for people living and obtain information to guide support and aids towards improving lives of people living with disabilities.
Tanzania as a country is also making progress on PWD inclusion, the country is a signatory to the 2009 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the optional protocol.
Tanzania has also signed and ratified other treaties that advance the rights of people, including those with disabilities, for example the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Tanzania has also committed to the East African Policy on persons with Disabilities (2012) outlining joint policy commitments in line with the CRPD and country level recommendations. As a country Tanzania is keen to implement the SDGs which five of its goals touches directly matters pertaining PWDs.
At national level the 1977 Constitution and its amendments recognize the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibit all forms of discrimination.
The new Draft Constitution (yet to be adopted) has some disability specific provisions (para 44):– all of which make some reference to protecting the rights of persons with disabilities to fair treatment, appropriate care, inclusion and full participation in society.
In 2010, Tanzania launched a Disability Act for Tanzania Mainland requiring the state to provide health care, social support, accessibility, rehabilitation, education and vocational training, communication, employment, work protection and promotion of the basic rights of persons with disabilities.
Disability Act call for any employer with more that 20 employees to ensure that 3 per cent of them are PWD. All these are plausible efforts toward PWD inclusion, however much more is desired to observe and comply with these good laws.
In as much as the government has competitive financial priorities but other initiatives needs just coordination through its existing structures and with collaboration with Non state actors to understand the number of PWDs, type of disability, level of education, career aspirations on one hand, but on the other hand putting mechanisms for employers to comply with the laws by either observing it or pay fines which in turn may be used to improve lives of PWDs by supporting their business ventures.
Donor community needs also to support the DPOs to identify, empower, link, support, and advocate for the rights of PWDs on employment. Projects should also aim to build DPOs capacity to strengthening employers’ engagement to enable them conduct successful engagement with employers.
All in all, my take away points from the Green Mountain State are that, successful bridging of PWD from education to employments requires big ventures like a strong political will to execute the good laws, strong family/peer/mentors support, and proper assistive technologies.
Other small but powerful ventures are like powerful story-telling, person centered guidance and integrating PWD on wellness and independent living programs. I plan to expound these strategies one after another in my future writings every month.
Learning aside the five weeks in America was also an opportunity for me to tell the Americans about my country, I got to like about how Vermonters are keen to learn new things, very inquisitive and pay attention to details. With every meeting, I made sure I tell the participants about how beautiful my country is, the fact that Mount Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania (not in any other neighboring country), the big-five animal groups in our national parks, and our beautiful music spearheaded by Ali Kiba and Diamond Platnumz. There were many temptations to talk about soccer and politics over Vermont delicacies (Maple Ice-cream, Berido, Asparagus and Junk Food) but I chose to be more of a listener and I jumped again into conversation when stories about pets, yoga, meditation and hiking started.
Victoria Lihiru is an advocate, academician, and a Governance and Social Inclusion Analyst with local and international organizations.