The saddest reality in African society is the manner in which people with disabilities are treated or mistreated, to be precise. People with disabilities are, to a great degree excluded from most day-to-day activities in society. That includes fundamental activities such as attending education institutions, health, political participation, employment and housing. They are effectively on the margins of society extensively represented in demeaning activities.
The causes of disabilities vary as widely as their needs which unfortunately are hardly met by the often indifferent political leadership. Among the causes of disability are birth defects, ageing, chronic conditions, violence (e.g. war), and malnutrition; the list is by no means exhaustive. What is very apparent is the societal indifference to disability and causes of it. People tend to explain disabilities as some kind of punishment to the individuals or their parents in the case of babies born with defects.
Disability is seen as being some evil cast on a family possibly as some kind of retribution for earlier witchcraft offences hence its hardly acceptable. This belief manifests itself in families, parents and guardians harbouring their disabled relatives at home thereby depriving them any meaningful contact with the wider society. Disability is dreadfully isolating for most people in Africa.
People with disabilities are disproportionately represented among unemployed people of working age. Around 80 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed. The high unemployment rate while alarming should not come as a surprise in a context where disabled people represent only 5 – 10 percent of school enrolments and only 1 percent of women are literate. While they comprise 10 percent of the population, they make 20 percent of the poor people in Africa.
Most African state welfare systems are not comprehensive enough and often do not adequately address the needs of people with physical disabilities. Governments and society at large seem to consider begging as an acceptable career for people with disabilities yet ignoring the abuse that begging exposes people to. There is also glaring evidence of societal exclusion of people with disabilities in the use of public facilities such as schools, transport and shopping malls. Facilities such as buildings and buses and taxis are not easy to use by wheel chair users and there is currently no sign of that changing soon. It can be argued that much of the dependence of people with disabilities is artificially induced by a society that is profoundly averse to inclusion.
African society seems to be mostly inclined to integration than inclusion thus only those few people with relatively minor physical disabilities are able to force their way into the mainstream society. It has, for years, run a parallel society of able-bodied and disabled people with the latter being brought up to depend on the former for virtually everything. However, the exclusion of people with physical disabilities in most decision-making processes leaves most of their needs unaddressed.