For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a lawyer. I have studied, worked harder than most, and passed the requisite entrance exams for law school. But the universities in my home country of Zambia, where I live, will not accept me. Why? Because I am deaf.
Despite pleading my case for admission, I was told, “no teachers, no sign language, we can’t take a deaf person.”
With my dream of studying law on hold, in 2009, I started an organization with other deaf people and youth to work against policies that impede the success of people with disabilities.
The major reasons why people with disabilities have not made an impact in Zambia is twofold: there is a lack of political will among our leaders to press for reforms and people with disabilities lack sufficient representation. The men and women who sit in our parliament are not disabled, and even with the best intentions, they cannot articulate disability issues the way a person with a disability could. As a result, many bills are passed that both directly and indirectly affect people with disabilities; legislation is translated into law without our input. People with disabilities need to be closely consulted on all issues affecting us.
If Zambian law adhered to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, people with disabilities would not face such severe political, social, and economic inclusion. My government should follow the example of countries like Uganda and South Africa where people with disabilities serve in the legislature, hold influential posts, and participate as partners to achieve a more inclusive developmental agenda. People with disabilities in Zambia should be integrated into the government machinery.
I want my country to realize that people with disabilities are equal to every other citizen; we have potential and we deserve full rights and representation in the governance process. No amount of political lip service will help; in the end, that rhetoric can’t put three meals on the table.
The challenges rest on our shoulders and we must press for change. We are not victims. We will fight the barriers to a better tomorrow, one that the next generation can look to with pride.
Frank Musukwa is a member of the African Youth with Disabilities Network which is supported by the Open Society Foundations.