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» » Disability and the exclusion of PWDs from public spaces

                                 Masvingo provincial registry

Star Matsongoni

Vimbai, a vibrant young girl who has just finished her degree in education, wants to visit the Masvingo Provincial Education Director (PED) but fails to get to his office because she is wheelchair-bound and the office is on the second floor of Wigley House.
Stairs are the only way up so basically the office is inaccessible for her and this means the PED, Zedius Chitiga, has to go down stairs and meet her there.
The PED’s office is not the only public office which is not structurally sensitive as almost all others are generally not user-friendly to people with disabilities.
Chitiga told TellZim News that if such disabled people want to seek audience with him, he has to go down stairs and meet them on the ground floor.
Masvingo provincial police spokesperson Chief Inspector Charity Mazula, whose office is also on the 2nd floor, said in such a scenario, she would also have to go down stairs.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean you should always come to my office, because I myself can go down stairs and meet you at the most convenient place,” said Mazula.
Many people, however, feel that such an arrangement is not the best since it often involves some bit of waiting to be done, and for other people to be inconvenienced since an official would have to leave his/her seat to attend to one person elsewhere.
Indications are that only a few organisations are fully accommodative to people with disabilities and their fully able-bodied counterparts.
The office of the Minister of State for Masvingo Provincial Affairs is on the 3rd floor of Benjamin Burombo building and there is no elevator to cater for those who cannot use the stairs.
When the now late Shuvai Mahofa was appointed minister, she had to swap offices with the provincial medical directorate as she could not climb upstairs due to poor health and old age
Association of the Disabled and Elderly Persons of Zimbabwe director (ADEPZ) Bernard Fovera said they had challenges accessing those offices.
“There is high inaccessibility of public spaces resulting in maximum exclusion of people with disabilities. A ramp would be fairly good but is not the most ideal option because it still requires manpower to push me up the building,” said Fovera.
Other activists feel that public institutions like the police and local authority offices could be made more accessible by building ramps to enable wheelchairs to be pushed with greater ease.
Both ends of the Masvingo Central Police Station have stairs that make it impossible for wheelchair users to have easy access to the offices.
At work places, the inclusion of people with disabilities remains elusive as most organisations do not have disability-sensitive human resource policies.
The education sector is also not accommodative enough since most schools have no facilities that respond to the special requirements of people with disabilities.
An interesting observation to note is that big supermarkets have ramps but these are not installed in response to the requirements of wheelchair users, but in order to allow trolleys to be pushed in and out without many hassles.

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