For the month of November, we recognise and celebrate Disability Awareness Month around the world. The CDC defines a disability as, “any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions)”. Globally, around one billion people or 15% of the population experience a disability. However, disabilities are diverse, and almost every person will experience some form of disability, either temporary or permanent, at some point in their life.

Living with a disability can pose many challenges that make everyday life difficult. In our rural area, the barriers that persons with disabilities face are exacerbated by inadequate access to education and health care, limited availability of assistive technologies or rehabilitative services, inaccessible physical environments and transportation, and low social awareness and general knowledge which contribute to prejudice and stigma. 

We recognise that there is a need for disability sensitisation in our community. With the help of Victoria Cook, a medical student at Newcastle University who completed an internship with our Health Programme, we have developed a toolkit that focuses on the most common disabilities experienced in our community, and how these disabilities can best be supported by caregivers and our community health workers (Nomakhayas). 

We will also use the toolkit to educate and spread broader awareness about persons with disabilities on the radio, during health outreach events and home visits with Nomakhayas. 

“It was fantastic to work with a team who are so passionate to develop their knowledge in order to improve the quality of lives for people living with disabilities in their local community. My main hopes for the programme would be that it continues to actively seek out community members requiring extra support due to impairments and that it tries to provide creative solutions to overcome barriers with the aim of improving social and mental well-being as well as physical health outcomes”

– Victoria Cook, Medical Student (MBBS) at Newcastle University 
Nomakhaya positioning a patient who is partially paralysed due to a stroke.

Our Nomakhayas receive ongoing training, and recently, they have been capacitated to support community members living with disabilities and the people who care for them. In July, our Nomakhayas, ECD teachers and iiTablet Tshomiz facilitators attended a week-long training by Shonaquip Social Enterprise on how to create an inclusive classroom environment for persons with disabilities. Additionally, in November, our Nomakhayas attended a training on reducing alcohol harms hosted by Philani Maternal, Child Health and Nutrition Trust

Nomakhayas during training with Shonaquip Social Enterprise, July 2022.

These trainings and the toolkit have expanded awareness for our Nomakhayas, who are now better able to understand the range and depth of disability so that they can also refer patients to adequate medical or social support when needed. We are planting the seeds for understanding, ukutyala imbewu yolwazi. 

Download the toolkit: Abantu Abaphila Nokhubazeko.

Enkos’ kakhulu to Victoria Cook for her research and for creating the content of our toolkit, and to Hombakazi Mercy Nqandeka for translating the toolkit and giving such thoughtful language to promote a more inclusive environment.