MY JOURNEY OF DISABILITY AND THE WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE OF WORKING WITH JICA

WRITER: MIRANDA LEPHOKO

My name is Miranda Lephoko, mostly known as Mimi. I am a dynamic South African woman who survived a domestic violence attack, through the hands of my then husband, who shot me 3 times then committed suicide thinking I was dead. He left me not only paralysed from the waist down, but also having to pick up the pieces of my life. I had to accept my new life situation adapt and move on.

I’ve been using a wheelchair for more than 11 years, and very early, I had to learn that I could never pity myself. If I had done that, I would never have reached what I now perceive as my destiny, getting women who are in denial about their situations to get a wakeup call, and change their circumstances.

I’m a typical girl who grew up in the dusty streets of Katlehong, who came across extra-ordinary circumstances and learned to face them. Today I still stay in the very same house where the incident took place. Life has taught me that you will never know what’s in store for you. My new life introduced me to the world of disability which made me to have more reason to live as I learned about the opportunities available to people with disabilities.

It was in 2014 when Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) working together with Department of Social Development (DSD) was offering an opportunity to attend a Training of Trainers for Disability Equality Training (DET). I was amongst the group that was selected after passing my interview assessing if I was the right candidate for the training. We were all coming from different provinces with different disabilities and the training was for 2 weeks and it took place in Johannesburg.

The training was more informative because when I got paralyzed I always had the understanding that I was the one with the disability. During the DET I then learned about the Medical and Social model of disability. The true nature of disability it not the functional limitation of an individual but is discrimination and social exclusion imposed upon people who are regarded as different in terms of bodily functions and structures. The aim of the DET is to promote the understanding from the Social model to have a barrier free environment. It also promotes the disability as an equal opportunity issue and changing the mind-set. I started empowering my colleagues with the knowledge I gained so that they can have a better understanding of what disability is.

Currently I facilitate the DET working with Daisuke Sagiya and Ren Kamioka from Japan, they organise workshops for different provinces. The first workshop I facilitated was in QwaQwa for taxi drivers. The aim of the workshop was to empower taxi drivers and change their mind-set to learn how to approach people with disabilities since they deal with us on daily basis. The training was to make the community understand that disability is not about the person but about the environment. If they make taxi rank barriers free we won’t be limited to accessing public transport.

The other workshop was conducted in Limpopo for both people with disabilities and the community so they can understand the importance of accessibility on all the buildings like shopping malls/government buildings and even our homes. We received a positive response from both provinces and the community committed on making the change in terms of implementation and they got a better understanding on what is disability? I thank Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Department of Social Development (DSD) for awarding me the opportunity to empower our community.

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