Disabled people's employment & learning challenges: Deputy Minister Women, Children & People with Disabilities, Departments of Public Service and Basic Education briefings

Public Service and Administration, Performance Monitoring and Evaluation

13 March 2013
Chairperson: Ms J Moloi-Moropa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Department of Basic Education (DBE), Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and the Deputy Minister of Women, Children and Persons with Disability briefed the Committee on the special problems facing blind and deaf people, in education and employment, in South Africa.

DBE said that although White Paper 6 on inclusive education dated back to 2001, there had not been nearly enough done to implement it. The problems for the majority of learners with visual and hearing impairments started with insufficient Early Childhood Development (ECD) targeted programmes to prepare them adequately for school. Challenges included limited availability of braille instructors, the high cost and limited availability of braille material and assistive devices and instructions for independent daily living. South Africa fell severely short in having sufficient numbers of teachers trained specifically for the blind and deaf schools, with about 80% unable to use sign language themselves. All teachers were being trained now in braille. The curriculum did not aside enough time for independent living skills, much of the work was at too low a level to enable the students to achieve well at matric, and schools lacked texts, trained support staff at the hostels, and proper curriculums. DBE was now providing focused training, was funding master copies of braille texts, delivering 22 workbooks to 22 schools for the blind and developing Grade R braille texts. It was trying to have a sign-language curriculum approved. The new curriculum should be introduced in 2014. Audits of all special schools were being done.

DPSA acknowledged that the 2000 targets to achieve 2% employment of disabled people in the public service still fell short, at only 0.38% (5 127 employees), and only seven national departments, excluding DPSA itself, had met the target. It had developed a policy on Reasonable Accommodation and Assistive Devices, which was awaiting approval by Cabinet. The Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities was finalising a database of skills of people with disabilities. DPSA was working with departments who were under target, who had to report every six months to it, and had managed to improve awareness. More departments had established partnerships with organisations of persons with disabilities, and were procuring assistive devices. The draft Policy addressed difficulties with public transport, personal assistants and caregivers. A study would be also be done into loss of disabled employees to the sector, to determine the reasons and to develop relevant targeted norms and standards. The PERSAL database on disability was being reviewed.

The Deputy Minister for Women, Children and People with disabilities noted that there had been some progress but was still concerned that it was too slow, and insufficient. DBE had not said anything about the catch-up plan for learners who had not been provided with braille texts, which put them at a severe disadvantage, and she noted her particular concern at the lack of trained teachers in the special schools, asking when this requirement would be re-introduced. Provincial funding for special education had to be addressed, and inclusive education made into a reality, with sufficient support staff and focused attention on universal access. She was also concerned that DBE was spending time developing a curriculum without sign language yet being recognised as an official language, and wondered if posts for deaf teachers and assistants should not be created at the special schools and urged it to obtain videograph equipment. Early detection programmes were also of key importance. She urged DPSA to look not only to employment figures alone, but to monitor every aspect of service delivery and standards, and to pay more attention to employment of blind and deaf people. The lack of career progression was a problem, and shortage of assistive devices, as well as the fact that all were imported at very high cost, meant that many disabled persons waited months to be able to look to work, and she urged engagement with Department of Trade and Industry to promote manufacturing or better import tariffs of assistive devices. The database was indeed being worked on by her Department, but it was a joint effort, and every department must take responsibility for disability itself, and mainstream. Data integrity gaps were being addressed with Statistics SA.

Members asked if sufficient attention had been paid to learners who were both blind and deaf, what assistive devices were provided to help disabled learners in mainstream education and noted that this category was increasing and must be taken into account. They urged that government must fund hostels at the special schools, noted that one of the problems was that most budgeting was done by the able-bodied, with insufficient appreciation for disabled issues. They questioned the arrangements with Pioneer Printers and the DBE. They were shocked to hear the current employment statistics and asked why disabled graduates were not being employed, and sought a copy of the new policy. One DA member suggested firstly the need to provide special incentives for special-needs teacher training, secondly employing disabled teachers at special schools, and the possibility of government funding cochlear implants, which would only be needed for a very small percentage of the population. Members wondered if the DBE was taking positive steps to identify disabilities at an earlier stage to do proper planning, if there were sufficient schools, what it was doing to identify children who needed large-print books, and questioned the link between inadequate education and poor employment prospects for the disabled. They said that DPSA must not focus so much on the numbers as on ensuring decent working conditions, wondered why organised labour did not discuss teachers of the disabled, noted lack of support for children who were placed in schools far from home, and wondered if DBE was working in partnership with government training institutions. An ANC Member suggested that departments failing to meet the 2% targets should be fined, and also asked about collaboration between departments. All Members made it clear that more accountability was needed to achieve the targets and needs, and urged more attention to having sign language recognised as an official language. 

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed the Deputy Minister for Women, Children and Persons with Disability Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, and representatives from the Departments of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and Basic Education (DBE). She noted that this was a follow up to a meeting on 6 March when Disabled People South Africa had made a presentation.

She said that the 2% employment targets were in particular coming into question, and reaffirmed the Committee’s commitment to remain focused on this area. She noted further the importance of realising the mainstreaming of disability. There was a need to create a conducive environment, starting from school level and continuing right through tertiary education and the workplace, to allow disabled persons to operate as independent human beings. There was a need to pay consistent attention to all issues lest they be overlooked. Strong oversight would continue until Parliament, particularly this Portfolio Committee, was satisfied that government was making progress in responding appropriately to issues of disability.

Challenges faced by blind and deaf learners on facilities, equipment and braille material: Department of Basic Education briefing
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, Acting Deputy Director General, Department of Basic Education, noted that in the past year the Deputy Minister and Minister for Education had requested the sector to do an assessment of the progress made in implementing White Paper 6, which was a policy directive for the sector regarding the implementation of inclusive education. That was also informed by engagement between the Deputy Ministers for Basic Education and of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities. The DPSA had presented a report, flowing from the assessment to the Portfolio Committee for Education and subsequently to the Council of Education Ministers. It was recognised  that not much had been done since White Paper 6 was issued in 2001. The Minister directed that DPSA devise a plan for implementation starting in 2013, which was declared the year of inclusive education. This plan provided the basis for the presentation.

Ms Marie Schoeman, Chief Education Specialist, noted that the presentation would address issues arising out of the challenges faced by blind and deaf learners regarding facilities, equipment and braille material.

Challenges faced by blind learners
Ms Schoeman noted that the majority of learners with visual impairments, including those with low vision, did not have access to early stimulation Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes which would prepare them adequately for school. She spoke about tactile stimulation, which introduced learners to Braille, and orientation and mobility instruction for use of white canes and independent daily living as being a part of this process of early preparation. The main challenges were the limited availability of Braille instructors; a limited availability of orientation and mobility instructors employed in schools (particularly since South Africa fell short on international ratios), the fact that about 80% of teachers lacked appropriate skills in Braille. There were only two schools for the blind that were capable of producing Braille materials on a consistent daily basis, and there was inadequate and non-maintained equipment for Braille printing. Finally the curriculum did not set aside enough time for independent living skills to be learnt in a structured way.

Ms Schoeman noted that the DBE did conduct a comprehensive audit in all schools for the blind in 2009/10. A report was published, that DBE had been diligently implementing since 2010. It acknowledged that a problem existed at management level in many of the schools for the blind, that many did not prioritise a high level of curriculum delivery in the schools, and that much of the work done at these schools was not at a sufficiently high level to allow learners to achieve well academically and proceed to Matric.

Focused training was provided to about 250 district officials and School Management Teams of schools for the blind as well as for the deaf. Specialised training dealt with all aspects requiring attention in special school management, including curriculum delivery, the utilisation, maintenance, and management of assistive technology, the setting up of a vision clinic so that teachers were acquainted with the exact nature of the learners’ visual impairment, in order that suitable material could be provided.

A consultative session was held in July 2012, where all the main stakeholders were brought together to establish a framework for teacher development in the area of visual impairment. Ms Schoeman pointed out that out of this came from a recognition for the need for training in uncontracted braille, technical codes for Maths and Science teachers, for equipping teachers to be able to fully utilise the braille books published by the DBE.

Ms Schoeman noted the decision by the DBE to ensure that all teachers with no knowledge of braille received training by the end of May. The DBE also decided to fund the production of master copies in braille, which was the highest cost element of braille books. 504 titles for foundation, intermediate and grade 10 & 11 phases were selected for this. She noted that a selection for senior phase books would soon be made. She further noted that the DBE had submitted adapted workbooks to Pioneer printers and Braille South Africa, for printing and distribution to the 22 schools for the blind. She pointed out that due to the intensiveness of the process, it had taken over a year to adapt the learner workbooks into an accessible format. For the first time, braille texts and graphics would be printed on the same page, something which was especially important in the junior grades.

She said that the DBE was holding discussions with Daisy South Africa over the possible introduction of Daisy technology, including EPUB 3. DBE also worked with the Department of Arts and Culture in the national study on the production of braille in South Africa, in order to investigate the possibility of expanding the capacity in South Africa to produce braille.

Ms Schoeman was proud to announce that the DBE had developed, from scratch, and in all 11 official languages, a Grade R workbook which integrated pre-literacy, pre-numeracy and life skills. These were sent to schools last week together with a toolkit in order to assist teachers with their use. She went on to describe the adapted workbooks, displaying images and passing around the room some examples

The 2013 plans
Ms Schoeman outlined a number of measures that would be taken in 2013. Firstly, the DBE would train teachers comprehensively, at special schools, for five, days on quality education and sport. Emphasis would be placed on curriculum adaptation and ensuring that blind learners were not short-changed in terms of the standards of delivery. Schools would also be trained intensively on the use of assistive technology. Secondly, 120 grade 1 teachers would be trained on uncontracted braille by May 2013, and 560 grade 2 teachers would be trained on contracted braille by September 2013. This would be an accredited course, with an exam to be written, that aimed to ensure that there would be no teachers at schools for the blind who did not have the requisite skills in braille. Thirdly, the DBE was working with Higher Education Institutions in reviewing Teacher Education Programmes, both at pre and in-service levels. Fourthly, the DBE was coordinating the printing and distribution of workbooks for grades R through 9, to all schools for the blind. Fifthly, the DBE would be managing the production of 580 master copies of the CAPS textbooks. Sixthly, the DBE would coordinate the procurement of braille textbooks by Provincial Education Departments, ensuring that orders ran smoothly. Seventhly, DBE would be equipping all nine provincial Vodacom ICT centres with assistive technology for learners who were blind and partially sighted, and linking them with relevant schools.

Challenges faced by deaf learners
Ms Schoeman then outlined the specific challenges for deaf learners. These included the early identification of deafness, the fact that the majority of deaf children did not have early access to ECD programmes for stimulation and development of sign language, and the fact that the majority of deaf children were born to hearing parents, and thus entered school without the requisite language development. About 80% of teachers in schools for the deaf were unable to use sign language, and as yet there was no nationally approved South African sign language curriculum. Few deaf learners progressed beyond grade 12. Those who needed to board did not have access to hostel and support staff equipped with sign language, and not all classes for the deaf had deaf teacher assistants. The majority of schools for the deaf did not have the requisite equipment. Teachers were not provided with guidelines for utilising workbooks. Few schools had audio equipment and audiologists.

Measures to address the challenges
Ms Schoeman pointed out a number of measures taken by the DBE. District officials and trainers participated in training in specialised areas of deaf education in March 2011, and a two-day workshop for blind and deaf issues was held in July to develop a framework to inform teacher development activities up to 2014. The Minister had established a Curriculum Management Team (CMT) to manage and provide oversight to the development of South African Sign Language (SASL) curriculum. The first draft was now completed and was being piloted. The curriculum would hopefully be introduced for grades R to 12 in 2014. Other measures included the identification of a reference group which was consulted throughout the development of the SASL curriculum, while teacher guides were developed to assist in workbook utilisation.

Plans for 2013
The plans for 2013 included the finalisation of the SASL curriculum for grades R to 12, for rollout in 2014. There would be an audit in all 44 schools for the deaf to establish their readiness for the implementation of the curriculum. In this year, there would also be the piloting the grade 9 Bridging Programme in two schools for the deaf in Gauteng and Western Cape, and preparing the system for the phased-in implementation of the SASL curriculum, including the training of teachers.

Meeting the 2% disability targets: Department of Public Service and Administration briefing
Mr Kenny Govender, Deputy Director General, Department of Public Service and Administration said the DPSA presentation would look at the population census of 2011 and would discuss how well government was doing at achieving the 2% target. He acknowledged that since the 2% target was set in 2000, little progress had been made by government in achieving this. Although the pace was slow, the trends since March 2010 had improved, but since disability employment in general was only at 0.38%, it remained short of the target. Data showed the movement of disabled people from one department to another.

Mr Govender pointed out that the DPSA had been monitoring and trying to enforce compliance in terms of mainstreaming of disability programmes in the public service. It had been working very closely with the Department for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) in order to improve accountability of heads of department.

The DPSA had developed a draft Policy on Reasonable Accommodation and Assistive Devices – an area identified as one obstacle to achieving the target. The policy would address issues of transport, personal assistants, and care givers.

Progress Report: People with Disabilities
As at 31 December 2012, PERSAL data showed that there were 5 127 employees in the Public Service with disabilities (0.38% of the total).

Seven out of the 39 national departments had achieved the 2% target, with the DPSA itself being at 1.08%. In order to monitor and enforce of disability in programmes, the DPSA had Diversity Management as an indicator in the self-assessment tool (M-PAT).

The Policy on Reasonable Accommodation and Assistive Devices included a costing model with examples of devices and related costs, to assist with budgeting.  This policy would address issues of transport, personal assistants and care givers.  The DPSA had been running readiness workshops with departments since February 2013, in anticipation of this policy’s implementation.

Recruitment of Persons with Disabilities was identified as a short-term measure to meet employment equity targets. In November 2012, the DPSA presented the 2011/2012 Annual Employment Equity report to Cabinet, which took a decision, firstly, that it wished to retain the current equity targets – namely 50% of women at Senior Management Services (SMS) level, and 2% employment of people with disabilities in the public service. Ministers and Heads of Department would be held accountable for achieving these targets. Cabinet reiterated also that the Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities must finalise a database of skills of people with disabilities, and that the statistics on existing targets for disability and gender representation must be circulated to Members and HODs.

Progress on the implementation of remedial plans
The DPSA had a strategy to work with departments that had achieved less than 1% of the required 2% employment equity target. It had found that since holding consultations, there was more buy in and awareness from managers. Reasonable accommodation and provision of various assistive devices had improved, following both the DPSA consultations and awareness raising by the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (DWCPD). There was There was better understanding of disability management within departments, and advocacy and training by Public Administration Leadership and Management Academy (PALAMA) must be intensified. More departments were establishing partnerships with organisations of persons with disabilities and the positive impact of this should be evident in the coming year. More departments were calling for guidance relating to procurement of devices, and attention was paid to signage at entrance points, access points and use of voice-over in lifts. More departments had established forums of persons with disabilities. Other innovations included making partnerships with local driving schools to give driving lessons to disabled employees in Mpumalanga, and training of interns in Sign Language interpreting in North West.

Questions had been asked in the previous week as to how DPSA was working on incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) into domestic law. DPSA had developed a handbook on what would be regarded as reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities in the Public Service in 2007, containing definitions and guidelines for operational requirements. The JobACCESS Framework and Implementation Guidelines 2005 were also a resource kit that assisted with infusing a human rights approach to recruitment, employment and retention of persons with disabilities in the Public Service. Departments were required to report progress to the DPSA every six months.

DPSA had also drawn up a policy and it would shortly be submitted to Cabinet for approval. Access to public transport to get to and from the workplace was a major challenge for people with disabilities. This was addressed in the Policy on Reasonable Accommodation and Assistive devices, with a link to the Public Service Commission Bargaining Council Resolution 3 of 1999. This Resolution empowered Executive Authorities to approve a policy that would manage the transportation of employees with disabilities, in exceptional circumstances. The policy further highlighted that “reasonable accommodation” did not always have to carry extra financial implications for it was possible for a person with disabilities to work from home. It dealt with personal assistants and care givers and recognised that employees with certain types of disabilities may require one of these two support mechanisms, depending on the nature or the severity of the impairment. This could be in the form of a person who would assist the employee with a disability to address personal needs, or by having a sign language interpreter for a deaf person.

DPSA would continue to provide support to departments in preparing for the implementation of the Policy on Reasonable Accommodation and Assistive Devices. It would also strictly monitor and report upon departments who were not submitting their quarterly reports on the Job ACCESS Framework.

DPSA would also be doing a study, in the present financial year, into the alleged loss of or movement of people with disabilities from the public service, to determine the reasons, and this would be used , along with investigations into other matters relating to the employment and retention of disabled people, to develop relevant and targeted norms and standards. A meeting was held with National Treasury to review parts of the PERSAL system which had discouraged many employees from declaring their disability status, particularly in regard to health profile questions. A letter had been written to formalise the amendments.  This was particularly so in relation to health profile questions. A letter has been written to formalise the amendments.

Deputy Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities
Ms Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu, Deputy Minister for Women, Children and People with disabilities, noted that she would have to leave the meeting early. She wanted to discuss the previous presentations and add some points about compliance.

The DWCPD noted the presentation of the DBE, and although it had heard the progress, it noted that at the moment there were several issues that remained a challenge. Ms Bogopane-Zulu noted, as an example, that DBE had said nothing about the catch up plan despite the fact that disabled learners had already lost three months of schooling. By the time the learners were in Matric, nobody would remember that disabled learners had to wait a year for their braille books, and were taught by teachers without the requisite skills, which obviously put them at a severe disadvantage and unable to compete at the same level with non-disabled colleagues.

Ms Bogopane-Zulu, drawing from her own personal experiences of special education, stated that the change was very slow, and although the problems had been isolated and stated they were not being addressed. When she herself was in special education, no teacher without a diploma in special education would have been permitted to teach in these schools, but in 1994 it must be admitted that the systems had changed. She questioned when the requirement for special education training for teachers would be reintroduced, and reiterated her concerns that there were many teachers in special schools who had no idea how to teach a disabled child.

The funding model was another critical issue affecting disabled children. For instance, the Northern Cape lacked any special schools, and even though in theory disabled children could be educated in another province, the funding stayed in the Northern Cape, which for practical purposes most often denied freedom of movement, and education to that child. She questioned how the funding model could be reviewed when it came to special education. If the White Paper been implemented as it was meant to be, then inclusive education would be a reality.

Ms Bogopane-Zulu acknowledged that progress was being made, and that pockets of excellence did exist which should be celebrated. However, the bigger strategic issues still needed to be addressed. She added that special schools required a certain number of administrative staff to provide support to the teachers, but each year these numbers were being reduced, which indicated a lack of appreciation at the district level for the role these support staff played.

The specialised inclusive education unit at DBE continued to struggle with various issues, and she questioned why, for example, schools not accessible to all were still being built, why there was no compliance with universal access design, and whether issues around disability were being mainstreamed into everyday life.

Although the DBE had set deadlines for the rollout of a sign language curriculum, some of the processes remained out of the DBE’s control so it was possible the deadlines may not be met. She expressed concern that the DBE was spending time developing a curriculum based on an assumed South African sign language, despite the fact that it had not yet been recognised as an official language. She noted that DBE needed to focus on finalising the institutional arrangements to enable a sign language curriculum. She stressed the distinction between sign language as an official language and as a medium of instruction. She envisaged disabled learners completing Matric exams in sign language.

She also noted the lack of teachers qualified in sign language and asked DBE to what extent it was discussing the possibility of creating posts for deaf teachers and assistants in schools for the deaf. She wondered if video-graphic equipment was a part of the curriculum in schools for the deaf, since it was a non-negotiable for a deaf child.

Ms Bogopane-Zulu also noted the importance of an early detection programme, and questioned to what extent work was being done to aid with the rollout of the schools health programme, as it appeared to be stalling. This programme alone could win half the battle with early detection in schools. She also stressed the importance of a plan being in place to ensure that disabled learners were put on an equal level with their peers, and that they were able to catch up.

Ms Bogopane-Zulu then moved on to comment on the DPSA’s presentation. She would have liked to have heard more than just a focus on the 2% target and urged that the question of disability within the public service should not only look to employment, but also address the monitoring of service delivery, and whether those services meet the requisite standards.

She noted the reasonable accommodation policy, and said that once the data was broken down, this would reveal that the disabled people being employed fell mostly into the physically disabled category, as building of ramps and disabled toilets was a one-off expense. There was a perception that it was more difficult to accommodate deaf and blind people, but this was in fact illogical, as very little cost, and only minimal adjustments were required, often through software. She wondered why providing an appropriate computer to a blind person was seen as an “additional: cost, when the employer would have provided a computer anyway. The issue was often simply lack of knowledge about how to accommodate disabled persons.

She noted that there was an issue of career progression for disabled persons, who often found themselves stuck at a certain level. She cited the example that disabled persons often had to wait for months to receive assistive devices, which caused them to miss work, and ultimately to under perform during appraisals. This was partly due to lack of competition in the sector that manufactured these devices, pointed out that the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) had to look into opening up the markets and issuing more licenses, and also said that countries such as USA had to be approached about their issuing of single issue licenses, which were keeping prices unnecessarily high and uncompetitive for assistive devices. She wanted to know to what extent government was establishing trade relations links, and bilateral and TRIPPS agreements, to assist those with disabilities. Presently, South Africa imported all assistive devices and this had a serious impact on disabled persons.

Ms Bogopane-Zulu again said that she recognised that there was some progress, but more could and should be done. DWCPD was working with DPSA to try to move things along faster. It was correct that DWCPD was working on the database, but it was not only its responsibility, and it had to work with other relevant departments, and it must be noted that ultimately the database was the responsibility of the Department of Labour.

She also noted – and all departments would feel strongly about this – that every single department must take responsibility for disability issues. When DWCPD was first established, disabled people had stressed that they did not want to be on welfare, nor must this department take over the responsibilities of others. DWCPD was supposed to play a supportive role.

She noted that the 2011 Census was communicating statistics which were overly focused on impairment issues, as opposed to disability issues. As a result, DWCPD had met with Statistics SA to discuss and agree on the necessary changes that would close the gaps and improve on the data integrity.

Finally, Ms Bogopane-Zulu noted that it was vital to overcome the challenges in education, as a proper basic education system for disabled learners would lay the foundations for them to perform to their full capabilities at higher education, and therefore to improve the quality of candidates for employment in the public service. The presentations today were the first step in the process of making the correct links and aiming for the necessary targets.

Mr J Marais (DA), asked whether provisions were being made for learners who were both deaf and blind, which represented a totally different challenge. He also asked whether any measures were taken to provide assistance devices for learners in the mainstream. He noted the importance of remembering that there were two categories of disabled persons in schools: those that were severely disabled, and those learners who were in mainstream education although they had partial impairments or disability. That category was increasing and must also be taken into account.

Mr Marais was very interested in the issue of funding to special schools and the hostels in which learners were accommodated. Many schools were forced to source private funding for the hostels, and if government did not start provide the funding, it would be impossible for many learners to attend these schools.

Mr Marais agreed with Ms Bogopane-Zulu’s presentation. He noted that part of the problem was that the disability issues were being approached from an able-bodied perspective, and stressed that all due regard and full understanding must be given to the rights of disabled people.

Mr Marais noted the DBE’s reference to Pioneer printers but said that since it was based in the Western Cape, all orders and payments were done via the Western Cape Provincial Department of Education, which in his view was an unnecessary complication.

Mr Marais was shocked to hear that disability employment was still at only 0.38% in the public service. A lack of accountability and consequences had resulted in little real action being taken. There also seemed to be very little concern to improve this as there was no real pressure to do so. He described the 0.38% statistic as an insult to people with disabilities. He questioned why the numerous disabled students who had done higher education were not being employed, and why there were no bursaries being made available to encourage such students to seek employment with the DPSA.

Mr Marais requested a copy of the Policy on Reasonable Accommodation. He expressed concern on whether the policy was in keeping with the Bill of Rights.

Mr D Du Toit (DA) noted that the issues always came down to the budget, which was decided by a majority of able-bodied people, without due regard perhaps to the needs of disabled people. All the departments dealing with disability must do this properly, and in terms of a set budget. He did not anticipate that this would be huge, because the disabled represented a relatively small percentage of the total population.

Mr Du Toit said that he was not quite sure yet where exactly the special schools were situated, and the logistics of getting the children to such schools was surely another issue.

Mr Du Toit said that whilst he recognised the problems of disabled people who had finished schools and were seeking employment, he wanted to focus on children who were recognised as being disabled (as opposed to slightly impaired), who needed, in the first 20 years of their lives, to find a way to become a productive part of society. Parents faced a problem in deciding how to school their children, which may involve them giving up their jobs to relocate, and he asked how government could assist with this.

Mr Du Toit suggested that there was a need to provide incentives to teachers to study to teach special needs children. Because they needed specialist skills, they should be paid more. He noted the potential of employing a disabled person to teach disabled children.

Mr Du Toit said, in regard to deafness, that a number of children were being taught sign language whereas they might well benefit from having cochlear implants. He questioned why every child and adult who wanted a bionic ear should not be provided with one, by government, through a social grant. There was only a very small percentage of the population who would need this and it was well within the range of government. A single implant, for one ear, cost R250 000 but this cost could easily be reduced. This problem could be solved with political will, a sense of justice, and money.

Ms A Lovemore (DA), expressed her appreciation for Ms Bogopane-Zulu’s very honest appraisal of the situation. She provided an example of a father brailing material himself for his daughter, because he had come to expect that DBE would not do so.

Ms Lovemore questioned whether the DBE was identifying the number of disabilities, not partial impairments, at birth, or at the earliest stage possible, in order to plan for future needs.

Ms Lovemore questioned whether there were enough schools to cater for all the children that were known already to be deaf or blind. She asked how DBE was identifying children in need of large print in mainstream schools. She thought that the number of children with visual impairments was probably much higher than children that were actually considered blind. She requested any statistics on this.

Ms Lovemore questioned if any audit had been conducted of “inclusive” schools, and if so, where the results were, and if they were available to the public. She also asked how to train as a teacher for the blind or deaf, and noted the shortage of these teachers. She wondered if the fact that so many blind and deaf children were not completing the full school curriculum was the reason for the low number of disabled persons employed, or, if they were employed, for the fact that they tended to remain in junior positions. In other words, she asked if the problems in education were blocking disabled persons from meaningful employment in their future.

Ms J Maluleke (ANC), expressed concern that no meaningful action was yet being taken, despite the President having declared last year a ‘year of action’. She thought DPSA should frame the shortfalls in reaching the disability targets in numbers, not percentages, and added that even those who had reached the percentage target may not have paid enough attention to good employment experiences. One disabled person had apparently been forced to use a box in a storeroom, for lack of a decent disabled toilet. Real implementation was needed. She quipped that, for the first time in these meetings, she found herself agreeing with Mr Marais. There was definitely a problem with the Western Cape Education Department acting as a middleman for Pioneer Printers.

Ms M Mohale (ANC) suggested that disabled persons were being treated as an afterthought. Organised labour never discussed teachers of disabled persons. Another problem was that many disabled teachers themselves tended to be placed in special needs schools, and were not sufficiently accounted for in mainstream schools. She noted the problem of children attending special needs schools often hundreds of kilometres from home, with consequent lack of support.

Ms Mohale was worried that DBE seemed simply to be putting any teacher into any school to achieve numbers targets, regardless of whether those teachers were qualified to teach blind, deaf and other disabled persons. They were often unmotivated to learn extra skills, were working only to get their pay cheque and were unconcerned at the plight of the children they were teaching, a sad reflection on South African current society.

Ms Mohale noted that the DBE had often referred to the training of teachers, but had made no mention of whether it was working in partnership with the government training institution. She questioned whether the training of about 700 teachers was sufficient to meet the demands of special schools. She noted that the DWCPD, despite being only four years old, had 5.5% disabled persons employed, but that the DPSA and DBE had, since 1994, not even been able to employ 2%. She stated that the DPSA should be leading by example, and was disappointed that they were ignoring the targets.

Mr E Nyekembe (ANC), noted that it was clear, from the presentation by Disabled People South Africa in the previous week, that disabled people in South Africa did not expect favours and wanted to be a full part of society. He also was concerned that departments were failing to implement and achieve their own plans regarding employment equity. He suggested the introduction of fines for departments who failed to achieve their target of 2%.

Mr Nyekembe questioned when the DBE had identified the challenges around ECD fully, as it had a responsibility to ensure that ECD programmes were implemented and that schools were built.  He also asked if DBE was identifying partners to collaborate with in achieving targets, such as the Department of Labour and the Department of Higher Education.

The Chairperson said that Members were clearly calling for more accountability for those who failed to achieve targets, which she thought was only fair. She was encouraged that the points on ECD had emerged, and asserted that there was a serious vacuum. Many parents felt “punished” for having a disabled child, and this was likely to be even more so for those who themselves had not had the benefit of education.

the Chairperson noted that collaboration between government departments was completely inadequate. She also highlighted the problem of the monopoly for assistive devices. She agreed that there was a need for sign language to be recognised as an official language.

Mr Mweli, DBE, stated that he would not attempt to answer all the questions and comments individually, but acknowledged fully that although progress was apparent, there remained much to be done.

Mr Mweli said that the problem with Pioneer Printers had been resolved, and now all the materials were procured through an open tender, in which this company would be free to participate, but it would no longer be engaged through the provincial department in the Western Cape.

DBE would provide a report on exactly where the schools were located geographically, as well as additional information about what types of disabilities were provided for at each school. As part of realising the objectives that 2013 was the year of inclusive education, the Minister had made a directive that every service provided should project a priority of inclusive education, whether this related to infrastructure or text books or anything else. He agreed with the importance of getting disabled learners on par with their peers, and providing support to disabled learners.

Mr Moshwale Diphofa, Director General, DPSA, stated that progress in achieving the 2% targets had been slow. He noted that one of the issues coming out of the analyses was that achievements were quite fragile, and this was further impacted upon because only a few people leaving the public service resulted in a significant percentage decrease. He noted that it was important not to push for compliance only for the sake of meeting the targets, and agreed that it was critical that meaningful opportunities and good employment was created for disabled people.

Mr Diphofa addressed Mr Marais’ question on reasonable accommodation, and said this policy had been guided by the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The Cabinet was still engaging on the policy, and it would be made available when it had been approved.

Mr Diphofa noted that the President expected report backs and accountability on the compliance of departments. Strict monitoring would take place, and the process that DPSA followed was resulting in better accountability. As the policies were implemented, a rise in number should be seen, but stressed again that DPSA did not just want to meet targets, but to focus on getting a substantial increase over time.

Mr Robert Masambo, National Chairperson, Disabled People of South Africa, noted that although it was slow, there was progress on disabled issues in South Africa, and agreed with the importance of setting up a process that validated the information on employment equity and disability – to ensure that, for instance, those who wore spectacles were not classed as disabled.

Mr Masambo agreed with the concerns about education issues, and said that part of the problem was that those over 18 were not writing matric, and disabled children might be disallowed from attending school because of issues not of their own making. He said it was important that learnerships be mobilised for sign language, to ensure that deaf learners had access, and stressed that DBE should investigate partnerships with the Pan-South African Language Board.  

The Chairperson noted that the  programme would continue and that the Committee would continue to exert pressure to ensure progress, as part of its oversight role.

The meeting was adjourned.

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