Working to create a barrier free South Africa and a barrier free world.

Annually we in government declare the month of November as the Disability Awareness Month. During this month government and civil society organisations embark on various awareness raising activities as a build up to the International Day of Disabled Persons on 3 December. Our celebrations this year are centred around the United Nations theme which is: “Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Development in Action”.

Recently I was honoured to speak at a conference on disability. The theme of the conference was “A BARRIER FREE SOCIETY: Working towards finding the solutions”. I am convinced that this theme is central to our government’s agenda. There is no doubt in my mind that true freedom and equality in South Africa can only be achieved once people with disabilities are fully included into the very heart of our society, its economy, its institutions of governance, administration and service delivery. People with disabilities must have barrier free access to goods and services, to education, housing health care and employment.

We must work assiduously to promote equality of opportunities and eradicate barriers to the full and effective participation of people with disabilities in all spheres of our society. In working to eliminate the structural, systemic and attitudinal barriers faced by people with disabilities, we are working to improve both their life chances and their life conditions and in this way we are definitely fighting poverty and underdevelopment.

The creation of an inclusive South Africa that belongs with equal force to people with disabilities is our collective responsibility. All of us, the public sector, the private sector and civil society have to utilise all the resources at our disposal; we have to marshal our energy in the fight to create a barrier free South Africa. But in that endeavour we must include in the very centre of our discussions, our deliberations, our decision making people with disabilities.

But our obligations are also international in scope. Representatives from the Office on the Status of Disabled People have been working incredibly hard on the Draft United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It has already reached the text stage in its many sectors, and these outlines have become the instruments of ongoing negotiations which take place between the numerous Ad Hoc committees, and different chairpersons and coordinators.

Together with my department I’ve already seen and worked with no fewer than nine of the Articles which will go to make up the final Convention. These have some broad titles such as The Purpose, The General Principles, and The Definitions and General Obligations. There are also many detailed sections such as: The Promotion of Positive Attitudes to Persons with Disabilities; Equality and non-Discrimination; the Right to Live; and the Equal Recognition as a Person Before the Law.

Of course it’s not an easy process. We have been in intricate debates; negotiations have stumbled and have been re-built; but the importance of the task drives negotiators to seek to achieve consensus.

And that, of course, is where we must end up. We must secure the agreement of many nations to a final Convention. Then, the document will be tabled in high office within the UN structures and all member nations will be asked to become its signatories. And from that point on, the Convention becomes a dynamic instrument throughout the world. Each country will use its strength and symbolism to the full; each committed nation will also be compelled to report back to UN on progress. That will be a high point of our global efforts.

It is our wish and hope that this process will be completed in the next 18 months. From now until then, I would like to urge you to be in touch with me with any thoughts you might have with respect to the Draft Convention. Every input will be welcomed; our portfolio which takes responsibility for the disability sector wants to continue its very meaningful contribution to this world initiative.

Be in touch - It will be good to hear from you.

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