The disability sector is vast, and individuals with both visible and invisible disabilities face debilitating challenges daily; and when compounded with the global issues brought about by the pandemic, it becomes increasingly challenging to try and negotiate these obstacles in the civil society sector. By Mduduzi Dube, Managing Director, Autism Western Cape
The disability sector has always grappled with various issues, from a lack of understanding within society at large, to a failure to enact tangible change from that society and governmental institutes once informed.
This almost always results in various limitations on the ability of disabled individuals to exist in society and live meaningful and productive lives. Inaccessibility to basic services which are not only individuals’ inherent rights, but their constitutional right, a lack of reasonable and necessary accommodations, stigmatism, lack of policies and strategic interventions that can help maximise the sector on a macro and micro systemic level, as well as a lack of funding, are some of the critical issues that plague the sector.
Autism, the field I have experience in, highlights inaccessibility as the core issue which needs to be addressed to allow for transformation and meaningful change. Whilst in the middle of social and civil turmoil and at a time when our beneficiaries are experiencing dire distress, we have made it our social and organisational responsibility to adapt and transform with the times to continually provide our services and provide access to the ones in need. We have moved all our services to incorporate social media and telecoms to make sure that our services can reach individuals even if they cannot physically be at our offices.
We have counselling via WhatsApp, Zoom support groups and telephonic counselling, which we have had to make a priority. We rely on our networks and the areas in which we have advocates, and we work with those individuals to spread both knowledge, but more importantly, to advocate for more inclusive policy planning and implementation, and trust it to lead to tangible changes.
Education and outreach initiatives are fundamental to the effective countering of ostracising practices. Resources such as the course developed and offered through Autism Western Cape and partner institutions, provides a simplified but comprehensive insight into autism spectrum disorder and the varying ways in which it presents, as well as the many options available to individuals and organisations working towards providing reasonable accommodations.
Even in times where in-contact educational sessions are not possible, the online availability of this course means that we potentially reach, educate, and equip a wider network of individuals than if the course were only offered in certain institutions. We have arranged virtual art exhibitions and have embarked on virtual sock campaigns with Falke, as well as a campaign with Vumatel, in efforts to increase funding opportunities and to adopt more out- of-the-box thinking in how we approach potential funders.
It has become our goal to partner with local and international stakeholders and to become a sustainably-driven organisation that can negotiate crises such as the ones we are currently facing with ease, instead of trepidation and fear that funders will not see the potential in our services which we see every day and believe in.
Our belief in our services has become so strong and firm during these times that we have been motivated to produce a documentary which highlights core issues faced within the autism sector from a parent’s perspective.
On 20 May 2021, 23 sector representatives marched to Parliament to hand over our memorandum and our petition, which had gained 1500 signatures in five days. The march with our newest ambassador, Speaker of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament, Masizole Mnqasela, brought together parents, caregivers, family members and autistic individuals to hand over the document to the Social Development Liaison of Minister Lindiwe Zulu. This march took place in the rain and sparked all our passions for the cause and providing a voice for the voiceless.
To sum it up, we are moving toward resilience through the belief in our services, the passion for our intervention strategies and our ability to adapt and be agile during these times, not just as individuals, but within our work environment and through the services we provide.
This article was first published in Inyathelo's 2020/2021 Annual Report.