11 December 2006

Ghana: Persons With Disabilities to Sue Offenders

Accra — Persons with disabilities have served notice that individuals and organizations whose acts, commissions or omission offend the provisions of the Disability Law will soon be hauled before the law courts to answer for their misdemeanors.

Multimedia Broadcasting group, operators of JOY FM, an Accra based radio station and its super-morning talk-show hosts, Ato Kwamena Dadzie and Kwadwo Oppong Nkrumah are the PWDs' first targets and they are to be jointly and severally charged under Article 37 of the new law on accounts of derogatory remarks.

The PWDs are contending that on the morning of December 4, 2006, Mr. Ato, in reviewing the morning's newspapers, remarked that a deaf and dumb person had been given a radio cassette player as his prize as a best district farmer and wondered what he, the deaf and dumb, was going to do with a radio set.

Mr. Ato had made the comments in respect of thirty six-year-old hearing-impaired Mr. Kojo Okanto, who emerged as the Best Farmer for 2006 in the Mfantseman District and was given a bicycle, suitcase, radio cassette recorder, three bars of key soap, cakes of Geisha soap and three cutlasses as his winning prize.

The PWDs said though his colleague host, Kwadwo Oppong Nkrumah, prompted Mr. Ato that the recipient has a family who could make good use of the machine, he still went ahead and remarked derogatorily that "it is like giving a TV to a blind person."

They group contend that first, Mr. Ato had offended the law by referring to a hearing impaired person as "deaf and dumb." Second that he had denigrated the person of the hearing impaired publicly and had course to extend such an offense to all persons who are visually impaired.

For such a misdemeanor, the group would soon be suing both JOY FM and its morning show hosts.

The second organization on the line of the PWDs' fire is the Metro Mass Transit, the shadowy transportation conglomerate that has the government of Ghana as majority shareholder. The sins of the MMT, according to the PWDs are that though it had advertised publicly, reserving some seats for the physically challenged as demanded by section 29 of the Disability Act, Act 715, it is not complying with the provisions.

In the view of the PWDs, despite the existence of the Disability Law and its abhorrence to use of derogatory language and names to describe persons with disabilities, some individuals and media houses are still ignorant or deliberately behaving as if the law does not exist.

According to PWDs taking legal actions against such individuals and organizations is the only way of ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Act.

They are also hoping to use media coverage of court convictions arising out of the prosecution of offenders to create awareness on the contents of the Act.

The said Article prohibits any remark in respect of a physically disabled person that is deemed derogatory and convicted persons could go to jail for the offense.

These were revealed in Accra last Tuesday during a roundtable discussion on the topic, "Launch of Disability Act 2006: What next?" co-organized by the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) and the Ghana Federation of the Disabled (GFD).

The one-day workshop, which drew participation of delegates from the Ghana Federation of the Disabled all over the country, organizations working for disabilities, donor agencies, civil society organizations and other relevant stakeholders, was part of activities marking the World Disability Day and brainstormed how the PWDs could sensitize the disability community on the contents of the Disability Law.

Presenting a paper on "Post-Enactment Activities in Relation to the Disability Law 2006, Act 715," Dr. Kwadwo Appiagyei-Atua, a law lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Ghana and a Constitutional and Legal Policy Fellow of CDD noted that there are about 26 sections of the Act that can be immediately implemented.

These include the right to family, differential treatment in respect of residence, tax exemptions, free education, driving license, health programmes, reserve seats and parking lot among others.

Ten sections of the Act, including the provision of special schools, special education in technical and vocational training, special medical treatment centres for disabilities, access to sporting events and the training of health professionals to cater for the needs of PWDs, he said, are implementable in the medium term.

The rest of the sections, according to Dr. Atua, could be put on hold for the long-term.

He however, recommended that judging from the multifaceted nature of the disability issue, the passage into law of bills such as the Domestic Violence Bill, the Mental Disability Bill and the Right to Information Bill could give a positive impact on the smoother implementation of the Disability Act.

He therefore advised the disability groups to join coalitions working on such bills and make inputs from the disability perspective.

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