The Enable Programme

"We never applied to become disabled"

In working towards a society for all, the ENABLE Programme creates inclusive barrier-free Education, Training and Development programmes for physically challenged learners. These programmes empower learners with Adult Basic Education (ABE), life skills and work skills, thus promoting independence and self-reliance.

Fundelwa Gambushe teaches English and Numeracy to physically challenged adult learners at Amaoti, a township near Durban, South Africa. Her classroom is a reconditioned container, beautifully painted by the youth of Amaoti, on the premises of Amaoti Disabled People's Association. Fundelwa herself has a disability of the back and spine, which has affected her growth since she was two years old. "When working with people with disabilities you must be patient and tolerant", she says.

"I enjoy teaching because I am disabled and so are they. There is no discrimination."

Fundelwa and her learners are part of the ENABLE Programme. This programme is run jointly by the Natal ABE Support Agency (NASA) and the Association for the Physically Challenged (APC) in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It has four Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) programmes in the province, working closely with local disabled people's and parents' organizations. NASA recruits and trains educators like Fundelwa from these organizations as ABET educators and supports them in the classroom.

It is estimated that 70% of children with disabilities of school-going age in South Africa, are presently out of school. (Government White Paper 'Integrated National Disability Strategy', 1997.) This shocking number obviously results in illiteracy and low skills amongst adults with disabilities and contributes significantly to their continued marginalisation in society and the high levels of unemployment. Yet, many adult education and training programmes continue to be inaccessible for adults with disabilities. Both physical and psychosocial barriers contribute to this, including lack of adequate transport suitable classrooms and assistive devices as well as negative attitudes and lack of awareness and training.

The aim of the ENABLE programme is to empower physically challenged adult learners with skills so that they can become independent and self-reliant. People with disabilities are often abused in their own communities and families.

"People treat me like 'a stupid' because I have a big shoe and use crutches", says Sibongile Nxele, one of the learners at Amaoti. "I feel so bad, I don't like it."

Her classmate, Thobile Zungu, has had the same experiences. "They give us nicknames like 'isishosha' (cripple). They look me up and down and say, 'Shame!'" The learners want to be treated with dignity and respect. "The community must know we are people like them," says Vuyo Zukulu, who was paralysed from the hips down by polio at the age of five. "We never applied to become disabled. It can happen to anyone."

The learners in Fundelwa's class want to learn for many reasons. Thobile says that Numeracy helps her with drawing up a budget and making a shopping list. For Thandiwe, learning English allows her to communicate with others, especially when she goes to the clinic and sees the doctor. She can now understand the instructions on medicine bottles. Siphiwe Mchnunu, a learner who has been in a wheelchair since he was young, wants to learn English so that he can use it when looking for a job, to communicate with employers. Sihle Bhengu has been nominated as a representative of disabled youth in his community. He is going to use English when he attends a national workshop in Cape Town.

Frieda Mazibuko is the educator at the 'Siyazama' sewing project (which means 'We are trying' in Zulu). She has a twenty year-old son who is in a wheelchair. The group was formed by those who have disabilities, and others who care for disabled family members. The aim is to learn to sew and make items to sell to make a small income. Fifteen members of this group, have been joined by others in the surrounding community to take part in English and Zulu classes. "It is good to have disabled people and community members learning together because they share ideas." says Frieda.

The educators on the ENABLE Programme try to teach literacy and numeracy skills in a way that is relevant to their learners. They link classes to disability issues such as knowing your rights and obtaining a disability grant. They also try to relate lessons to income-generating skills. The Siyazama sewing project helps members learn to measure, count and cost material, and to write the names of garments. Making these links is not always easy because ABET materials do not include disability issues and literacy organizations are often ignorant about the lives and needs of people with disabilities. "There is a huge need for relevant learning materials," says Peter Rule, NASA programme director. "We need literacy readers about the struggles and achievements of people with disabilities that will inspire others to learn."

The ENABLE Programme faces many challenges. These include appropriate training for educators, relevant materials, building capacity of ABET committees and linking ABET with disability issues and skills development. Recognition of the importance of 'inclusive education' for children with disabilities is growing and is reflected in the training and materials now available. However, there is still a long way to go before the same trend is seen for ABET. The biggest hurdles are funding and resources. "People with disabilities are very keen to learn," says Rule. "We see the ENABLE Programme as a learning and development resource not only for people with disabilities, but for the community as a whole. We are doing our best to raise funds to strengthen and extend the programme."

Fundelwa's words capture the vision of the ENABLE Programme:

"I have seen that the disabled people are neglected," she says. "Now I want to develop and improve their lives, and to bring back their dignity in the community."

The ENABLE Programme would like to get in contact with any other similar organisations who have ABET programmes for physically disabled learners and welcomes any comments, advice or example curriculum. Please contact NASA at:

e-mail: peter@nasa.org.za


Back Back to top