The plight of working women living with disabilities

Life is an everyday struggle for visually impaired 52-year-old Patricia Nsabyimana. Nonetheless, she does her best to endure.

Nsabyimana is a tailor, and she relies on her sense of touch to make school sweaters for various institutes. Her work, she says, isn’t easy because of the numerous challenges she faces.

Maintaining a solid client base is hard, and this, she says, is the biggest challenge.

“Some people do not trust that I am good at what I do, it is, therefore, easier to deal with a client only if I am recommended to them by another. Because I am visually impaired, at times I lose tenders when the request is big, because the time for delivery is short,” Nsabyimana says.

She says her other challenge is dealing with stigma, which at times, is too hard for her to bear.

“Some people are insensitive, they at times treat us like we are not human beings and it hurts,” she adds.

She says that though the Government has done its best to sensitise people on such issues, some have refused to embrace the concept.

“I wish more sensitisation is done such that people make an effort to be considerate towards people living with disabilities, and make us a part of society,” she says.

Surviving at the workplace

Dominique Bizimana, the head of The National Union of Disability Organisations of Rwanda, says women living with disabilities face a number of challenges at the workplace.

He says that if able-bodied women face challenges, then the ones living with disabilities are bound to face even more.

“One of the biggest challenges is the mentality of employers; they think that these women cannot deliver like their counterparts. Just because one has a disability, doesn’t mean that they don’t possess skills which can be explored and developed to the fullest. If given a chance and provided with the environment to nurture their skill, they can do just as well as others,” Bizimana says.

He points out the issue of communication for those with hearing impairment, which makes it hard to communicate.

Bizimana notes the difficulties that come with movement, especially for those who use wheel chairs. “Getting on the bus and heading to your place of work for many is a normal routine, but for those who are physically handicapped, it is a daily hassle.”

Dr Beth Mukarwego, a visually impaired lecturer at University of Rwanda’s College of Education, and chairperson of the women’s committee at the Rwanda Union of the Blind, says that one of the challenges women living with disabilities face is transportation to the workplace, which calls for additional expenses.

“If it is a severe disability, like being visually impaired, they have to be accompanied by someone, which is costly because they have to foot expenses for two people,” she says.

She says the expensive aiding equipment required to facilitate the physically disabled in executing their work is also a challenge.

“For example, people who have visual impairment need computers with talking software so that they are able to use the machine, and this is an extra cost,” she says.

Mukarwego says that the other challenge is the negative attitude towards people with disabilities.

“Those who try to set up a business, for example, grocery shop owners, at times face this discrimination when people refuse to buy their goods because of their condition. They think that if you have a disability you cannot do anything, which is not true,” she says.

She also says the stigma these women have to endure even out of the workplace is also a challenge.

“There is stigmatisation, when you get pregnant and go to the hospital, it is like you killed someone. They think you can’t afford to be pregnant because you have a disability, people pity you. Yet you feel it’s your right to do the same things as other people,” she says.

Innocent Vuguziga, a visually impaired ICT teacher for students with the same condition at Gatagara Secondary School in Rwamagana, says the challenge is mainly with workmates who find it hard to work with people with disabilities.

“It’s hard for them to embrace us because they don’t understand it well, he says.

The other challenge, Vuguziga says, is getting a promotion at work.

“It’s hard to get a chance because employers only trust what they have seen you do, they do not think you are capable of doing more. It’s therefore hard to get a chance for more responsibilities because they think it will be a burden, and for women it’s even worse.”

What needs to be done?

Mukarwego believes that the solution to most of these challenges is with the people living with the disabilities themselves.

As a woman who is visually impaired, she says showcasing what they are able to do is the best way to overcome all of this.

“Sometimes people with disabilities tend to lack self-esteem but unless we stand and show the world that we can do things, they will never know. Let’s take part in overcoming our challenges and engage ourselves in as many activities as we can because this way, we will discover what we can do and the rest will also know what we are capable of.”

In addition to this, Mukarwego says there is also need for advocacy and the construction of more inclusive schools that can accommodate people with disabilities because she believes that when one attains an education, they get the necessary skills to be productive.

For Vuguziga, only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches, he, therefore, suggests that people with disabilities should be allowed direct access to law makers such that they voice their issues, rather than having other people speak on their behalf.

“There should be a meeting where people living with disabilities are able to directly interact with law makers. This way, it will be easier to come up with practical solutions to most of these challenges,” he says.

What can be done to address the challenges faced by women with disabilities?

Though some get the opportunity to study, they still face challenges when it comes to life after school. Employers look at them differently, they need proof that they are capable, which can be hard. I operate a massage parlour but we have had situations where clients left after learning that the therapist was visually impaired. I wish everyone would see beyond their disability, they will discover women who are willing to work hard and be independent.

Beth Gatonye, Founder, Seeing Hands Rwanda

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The focus should be put on the construction of infrastructure that is favourable to them, for example, accessing buildings and public transport.

Derrick Kabanda, Student
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There should be more effort in ensuring that the law that defends people living with disabilities is enforced. At times, you end up in working conditions that are not favourable but you persevere because you need to earn a living. As a person with disability, I make sure I work hard such that I inspire others to also do the same regardless of the disability they have.

Consolatrice Niyibizi, Clinical psychologist

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It is upon society as a whole to help create an environment that is conducive for them; this is the best way to help them overcome the challenges because most of the challenges are centred on stigmatisation.

Wilbur Bushara, Medic

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