Disability and society
The last 20-30 years have seen an important change in our understanding of disability. From a previous individual perspective on causes and interventions, a social and civil rights approach has taken over. Much of the focus is now on the human and physical environment and how this might reduce or enhance an individual’s level of activity and social participation.
Contributing to improved living conditions
National policy development aimed at improving living conditions in general and among people with disabilities in particular is dependent on the availability of quality data. In many countries these have been lacking, and both the United Nations and National authorities have emphasised the need for this information in order to further develop disability policies.
Information about people with disabilities and their living conditions have the potential for contributing to an improvement of the situation faced by this group in many low-income countries, as has been demonstrated in high-income countries.
The approach used to define disability in these studies relies heavily on concepts inherent to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). We have demonstrated that by dissociating physical impairment from an individual’s limitations and abilities, the focus of disability can be redirected towards removing or reducing barriers that limit activities and restrict social participation and thus improving an individual’s social situation.
Data for a dialogue on disability policy
The first five representative studies are part of a regional initiative to establish baseline data on living conditions among people with disabilities in Southern Africa.
The Namibian survey was carried out in 2001-2002, Zimbabwe in 2002-2003, Malawi in 2003-2004, Zambia in 2005-2006, Mocambique in 2007-2008, Swaziland and Lesotho in 2009-2010, Botswana in 2011-2012 and Angola in 2013-2014.
In these studies it was found that people with disabilities, and their households, have lower standards of living than people without disabilities and their households.
A question of human rights
The studies have demonstrated that level of living conditions among disabled people is systematically lower than among non-disabled people. This implies that people with disabilities are denied the equal opportunities to participate and contribute to their society. It is in this context that people with disabilities are denied their human rights.
Sharing of knowledge
The initiative to carry out the studies in in southern Africa was developed in a joint project between Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled (SAFOD), the Norwegian Federation of Organisations of Disabled People (FFO), and SINTEF Health Research.
Major stakeholders in the countries are the following:
National Federation of Disabled People in Namibia (NFDPN), University of Namibia, Multidisciplinary Research and Consultancy Centre (MRCC), and Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation.
National Council of Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe (NCDPZ), University of Zimbabwe, Departments of Psychiatry and Rehabilitation, and Ministries of Health and Child Welfare and Social Welfare.
Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi (FEDOMA), University of Malawi, Centre for Social Research (CSR), and Ministry responsible for People with Disabilities in the Office of the President.
Zambia Federation of the Disabled (ZAFOD), University of Zambia, Institute of Economic and Social Research (INESOR) and Central Statistic Office (CSO).
Fórum das Associações Moçambicanas dos Deficientes (FAMOD), The National Statistics Institute (INE) and Universidade Eduardo Mondlane (UEM).
Lesotho National Federation of Organizations of the Disabled (LNFOD).
The Federation of Organizations of the Disabled in Swaziland (FODSWA).
The Botswana Federation of the Disabled (BOFOD).
The Federation of Organisations of Disabled People in Angola (FAPED).
Participation and control
The uniqueness of this research project is the inclusion of people with disabilities and their organisations in the entire research process where they play a particularly active role in designing, data collection and implementation of the results of the studies.
The studies are integrated in SAFOD’s long-term strategy for strengthening the organisations of disabled people in Southern Africa.
Funding is provided through the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and the Atlas Alliance, and by the three countries’ ministries.
Southern African Federation of the Disabled
Norwegian Federation of Disabled People
Vice Secretary General Jarl Ovesen
SINTEF Health Research
Dep. of Living Conditions and Health Services
Professor Arne H. Eide