Inclusive Practices Africa launches on a high note

11 December 2020 | Story NOBHONGO GXOLO. Read time 4 min.
Members of Inclusive Practices Africa receiving the Zero Project award.
Members of Inclusive Practices Africa receiving the Zero Project award.

There are over 300 million persons with disability on the continent. The impact of the burden of disease and disability as well the socio-economic and socio-structural factors that often inhibit the progression of marginalised communities, requires a strong need for the reduction of inequality. The Faculty of Health Sciences’ Inclusive Practices Africa (IPA) Research unit, accredited in 2020, takes this work head on.

A person’s functioning may be affected by a variety of factors including sensory (vision, hearing), physical, communication impairments, mental illness and intellectual impairment. While people have functional limitations – they become disabled when their capabilities and/or strengths are not recognised.

This statement, on IPA’s website is telling of the accredited research unit’s approach to disability inclusion to drive curricula change across higher education institutions. Conceptualised by Professors Harsha Kathard, Roshan Galvaan and Theresa Lorenzo, to make inclusive implementation practices visible – their focus is on reducing inequalities, especially related to disability. The IPA team influences and implements practices to foster disability inclusion in all sectors of the country’s health, education, social and economic systems. 

“Our focus in on addressing factors that lead to marginalisation and exclusion of vulnerable people, related to the intersections of race, gender, religion, socio-economic status, disability, and religion etc. The approach fosters inclusion across the education system and influences curricular change to produce graduates who are able to promote inclusive work and social environments,” said Lorenzo.

Collaboration and leveraging available resources is part of IPA’s trans-disciplinary way-of-working. It’s why they engaged Information Systems students in the Faculty of Commerce to create a more accessible website as one of their course requirements. Why they worked with Transport Studies in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment to facilitate disability inclusion in their new Masters in Transport Systems Leadership Development programme, which is being offered together with partners at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. And why they worked with fourth-year Occupational Therapy students who are developing a database on disability-inclusive services as part of their community development practice learning placement. 

Lorenzo speaks to IPA’s motivation behind their collaborative approach: “Reciprocal learning and capacity-building occur through sharing disciplinary knowledge to generate innovative solutions to complex problems.” 

Another of IPA’s tenets is advocacy. To further disseminate their work in 2020 the team appeared on radio interviews and engaged with the parliamentary portfolio and the National Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disability in the Presidency, making recommendations on how to create disability inclusive responses to COVID-19.

“Policy processes need to be inclusive of all people, and particularly address the needs of vulnerable populations who are usually more marginalised and struggle with equitable access to resources and service delivery,” Lorenzo said, offering insight into the transformative power of policy-change.

The unit’s work was recognised by the international Zero Project which supports the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and sharing Innovative Practice and Policies worldwide, by engaging with a cross-sectoral network of innovators, decision-makers and opinion leaders. The hat-tip from the Zero Project was for the IPA’s innovative implementation methods relating to inclusive educational practices. As awardees, the team participated in the Zero Project Conference which took place from 19 – 21 February 2020 at the United Nations Headquarters in Vienna, Austria. 

“Our signature projects focus on Curriculum Change and Supported Education through applying a decolonial approach and developing an inclusive learning environment and workforce, particularly in the COVID-19 context. This project promotes an active, engaged and co-ordinated response that is disability-inclusive in the immediate and the long term,” said Galvaan, fundholder and project leader.

During level 5 lockdown IPA collaborated with various partners to create a disability inclusive resource that promoted wellbeing by promoting play for and with children. They also participated in the webinar panel, Reset for inclusive practices in times of COVID-19 , hosted by the Department of Alumni and Development in August 2020. The webinar panel moderated by Galvaan created a platform for dialogue on systemic approaches to promoting disability inclusion. 

Kathard engaged in conversation with newly appointed Council member Marlene Le Roux and Charlotte McLain-Nhlapo, a Disability Advocate at the World Bank. 

The theme for the 2020 edition of the South African Health Review is equitable healthcare for people with disabilities in South Africa. Health Systems Trust appointed IPA as guest editors for this edition.

Kathard, who led the publication, said: “This role has created an opportunity for the curation of scholarship that critically considers access to services for persons with disabilities in South Africa.” 

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