opinionBy Charles Appiagyei
"A yardstick to measure the level of development of a nation is by how far the most vulnerable of society - the aged, disabled, women and children are integrated" President Thabo Mbeki
Ghana has about a tenth of its population being persons with disability. These are people with physical, mental or sensory impairments suffering from physical, cultural and social barriers that substantially limit their participation in major life activities - making them vulnerable, deprived and socially excluded.
Seeking integration and respect of their rights as persons and as citizens, people with disability in Ghana, spurred on by the international climate in 1981 when the UN International Year for Disabled People [IYDP] was declared, and the subsequent Declaration of the Decade on Disability [1983-1992] which brought in its wake the UN Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities , were relentless in their demand for legislation, policies and programmes to improve their lives.
In Ghana, rewards of their strive are the Articles 29 and 37.2b of the 1992 Constitution, the National Disability Policy Document of 2000, Part V of the Labour Act, 2003 and Persons with Disability Act, 2006, among others. Persons with disability have therefore secured a good measure of provisions for the promotion and protection of their rights. What is left is their enforcement.
Implementation of the disability law and policy, not to mention other provisions for people with disability like that on employment in the labour law and the 2% allocation of the District Assemblies' Common Fund (DACF), are all suffering. It has been two years since the disability law was enacted yet the body established by the Act to ensure its operation - the National Council on Persons with Disability [NCPWD] - is not in place.
The Council, whose governing body shall include representatives of the Ministries of Manpower, Youth and Employment; Health, Education, Women and Children's Affairs and Local Government and organizations such as the Employer's Association and Ghana Federation of the Disabled, is expected to monitor and evaluate disability policies and programmes, formulate strategies for broad-base inter-sectoral and inter-disciplinary involvement in the implementation of the national disability policy, coordinate disability activities, advocate on disability issues at all levels, research and provide education and information on disability to the public.
Additionally, it is to mobilize resources for the attainment of these objectives mentioned which in any case are not exhaustive. Such is the onerous task that awaits the Council. Its establishment and functioning are therefore imperative and must not wait.
Public buildings are springing up each day without disability access. Public education and information hardly reach the deaf because sign language interpretation is absent. Stigmatization and exclusion are still rife because of lack of awareness on disability to erode negative mindsets and attitudes. Poverty and disability keep reinforcing each other because of employment and education challenges; and people with disability live unempowered. These and more are what the law, which provides on the rights of people with disability, their education, employment, health and transportation seeks to address.
"Addressing disability is a significant part of reducing poverty. Bringing disabled people out of the corners and back alleys of society, and empowering them to thrive in the bustling centre of national life, will do much to improve the lives of many from among the poorest of the poor around the world" James D. Wolfenson
Government has to be proactive on the implementation of the law. The Council the law establishes must be set up to work. It will implement the disability policy whose long term goal is to "fully mainstream all persons with disability into national development process and improve their quality of life through equalization of opportunities by the year 2020".
The time has come for special incentives to people with disability in business and employers of people with disability [enshrined in both the labour and disability laws] to be spelt out to promote employment for people with disability. Their status and profile must be raised so that they can be earners and managers of their local work groups than roaming the streets for alms - an enterprise criminal and self demeaning.
District Assemblies should be sensitive to disability issues. They ought to have the clout to build and to approve only structural designs that are disability-friendly and incorporate the needs of people with disability in their plans and budgets.
Service providers should recognize the market they are missing from inaccessible environment - about 10% equity patronage from people with disability and their dearest and nearest. Some banks have taken the cue with provision of ramps and customer attention to persons with disability. All an internet café needs to get a blind patron, for instance, is a speech device [JAWS] to one of the computers to make it accessible.
The Parliamentary Subcommittee on Social Services and other collaborators last year conducted access audit with visits to many public facilities across the country. It was a laudable exercise but how have the findings been used?
The media must partner persons with disability and their organisations to create awareness on the law, advocate its implementation, monitor its compliance and evaluate performance. Generating and disseminating relevant information on disability will add to advocacy and sensitization.
Persons with disability must not only participate fully in society but must contribute positively to its growth and development. They are capable if opportuned and that is what the disability law seeks to do - providing the enabling environment and leverage.
Disability is a social construct and it is everybody else's responsibility to de-construct it. The law must work to afford people with disability social justice, integration, greater livelihood, security, full inclusion and participation in the lives of their communities, more independence and self-determination. The affront to our humanity and dignity should end.