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close this bookSustainable Development and Persons with Disabilities: The Process of Self-Empowerment (ADF, 1995, 117 p.)
close this folderSection II: Building economic self-reliance
close this folderChapter 5: Building economic self-reliance
View the documentThe importance of self-reliance
View the documentEmployment options for PWDs
View the documentGroup versus individually designed and managed IGPs
View the documentIGPs at the crossroads of gender and class
View the documentAction guidelines

The importance of self-reliance

The burden of the argument so far has been against the welfarist/medical/charity model of rehabilitation, and in favour of empowering the disabled people to take control of their own destinies. Let us summarise the argument against this model:

1. The model reduces the disabled person into a mere receptacle of welfare or medical aid, not an actor in his or her own behalf. It encourages a patronising attitude towards PWDs, and this robs the latter of self-esteem and dignity.

2. It kills the initiative and creativity of the PWDs.

3. It creates a Donor Dependency Syndrome (DDS) among the PWDs.

4. The welfare model has created a sizable industry of "Professionals" and fund-raisers for whom it eventually becomes a "business" in whose continuation they acquire a vested interest.

5. The medical version of rehabilitation is one of the worst expressions of this model, because it isolates the clinical aspect from all other aspects of the life of the disabled people. It treats people with disabilities as "patients" and case numbers.

All this is not to say that there is no room for welfare, or even for medical care. There is. But all in their own place, and in their own concrete situation and circumstances. All generalised approaches to the disabled persons (and this applies as much to CBR as to the medical model) must be avoided, in favour of a pluralist approach based on the principle, first and foremost, of empowering the disabled persons to control their own circumstances of existence.

Whose Ability
Suspend not my existence On a flimsy cobweb Of society's lacerated pity - K. Makgekgenene, Botswana

One of the cardinal components of empowerment is to be able to make a living for oneself. Not to have to depend on others for a living. Once you reduce yourself to the role of a mere "consumer" you have become a negative force to yourself and to others.

The adjoining passage takes poetic liberty to wax lyrical about the virtues of productive work. There is nothing wrong in a bit of lyric even in a "Guide" book! After all, a "guide" is not all about the body. It is also about the spirit. With the right spirit, some disabled people have moved mountains.

To be engaged in production, any kind of production (whether for a living or for art), has a more enduring therapeutic value than all the clinical treatment you can get from professionals. So, get down to production. The wheel-chair is no bondage to the mind. Your blind eyes can probe deeper into the recesses of the mind than those of the sighted, and think of something that only you can do and be proud of. Show the world that your deafness is a protective shield against the polluting sounds of the so-called "civilization," and play music with your heart so only you can hear.

Let us, however, get down to the hard reality. And the reality is that, increasingly, under the circumstances in which our countries find themselves (especially in Africa under the regime of the Structural Adjustment Programmes), there are fewer and fewer jobs available. The employment market has shrunk dramatically. African formal economics are contracting. The so-called "informal" (better called "non-formal") sector now provides "employment" to anything from 50 percent to 75 percent of Africa's increasing population. That is the reality, and it does not look as if things are likely to improve for the better in the foreseeable future. Under these circumstances, what options do the PWDs have? Broadly speaking, they have three options.