FOROYAA Newspaper (Serrekunda)

Gambia: World Disability Day Celebrated in Brikama, Statement of the GFD Chairperson

World disability day is commemorated every December 3rd, and in the Gambia it was commemorated by the Gambia Federation of the Disabled. The celebration took the form of a match past from the Brikama Police station to the governor's office in Brikama led by the Gambia Police Band.

Gambia federation of disabled is the umbrella body of all the disabled people's organisations (DPOs) in the Gambia. It was founded in 1991 and is currently having membership of nine DPOs.

GFD was established with the objective to improve the welfare of all persons with disabilities in the Gambia and create an environment that would promote and protect equal rights for all, including persons with disabilities.

It is in this regard that the ministry of Health and social walfare also set this day for commemoration in the Gambia.

The theme for this year's celebration is "removing Barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all"

December 3rd was set up by the UN General Assembly in 1981 aiming at creating awareness on disability issues applauding the potentials of persons with disabilities and encouraging recognition of disability rights.

The full text of the speech of the chairperson of the Disable in the Gambia is reproduced below:

Chairperson of the ceremony, the Governor West Coast Region, Chairman Brikama Area Council, Representative from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, the Department of Social Welfare Sightsavers the Gambia, UNDP, participants and all other protocols observed I greet you all in the name of respect and in the name of the world disability day.

Today is yet another 3rd December for the whole world to commemorate the challenges faced by persons with disabilities around the world and come out with solutions how to end them.

For persons with disabilities today is our day and it is key in the history of the world since we are part of the world population. This day is not a day we should feel sad, yet it is not a day of celebration. Today is a day of commemoration, a day that all should regret all forms of discrimination and stigma that persons with disabilities suffer from for the past years, within the societies they live in. We should join hands and to find solutions on how to end it.

This international day was set aside by the UN General Assembly in 1981 aimed at creating awareness on Disability issues, applauding the potentials of those with disabilities and encouraging recognition for disability Rights.

Researchers have shown that over one billion people, or approximately 15 per cent of the world's population, live with some form of disability and which the Gambia is not an exception.

Here in the Gambia we all know that there are limited statistics on disability prevalence in the country. However, applying the global estimates of 15% to our population estimated at 1.7 million people by the 2003 population and housing survey, it indicates that there are about 255,000 People With Disabilities in the country. This is not a number to ignore, particularly if we suspect that the number is steadily increasing.

In another unfortunate development, it is discovered by the 2008 National Disability Survey conducted by Disabled People's Organizations (DPOs) together with VSO and the Department of Social Welfare depicts that 75% of females and 70% of males with disabilities enumerated had no form of education. PWDs who attended primary school were 16% compared with those who attended secondary school 8.4% and tertiary education 3.2%. And that 56% of PWDs do not know where specialized services needed by them are offered.

Persons with disabilities, "the world's largest minority", often face barriers to participation in all aspects of society. Barriers can take a variety of forms, including those relating to the physical environment or to information and communications technology (ICT), or those resulting from legislation or policy, or from societal attitudes or discrimination. The result is that persons with disabilities do not have equal access to society or services, including education, employment, health care, transportation, political participation, or justice.

The theme for this year's commemoration is "Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all". This is timely as according to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, Accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities are fundamental rights which according to the same convention they are not only objectives, but also pre-requisites for the enjoyment of other rights. The CRPD (Article 9, accessibility) seeks to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life and development. It calls upon States Parties to take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to all aspects of society, on an equal basis with others, as well as to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers to accessibility.

In spite of this, in many parts of the world today including the Gambia, lack of awareness and understanding of accessibility as a cross-cutting development issue remains an obstacle to the achievement of progress and development through the Millennium Development Goals, as well as other internationally agreed outcomes for all.

We are using this opportunity to applaud the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare for their tireless support they always render to us. As we are here today the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and the optional protocol and the validated draft disability bill had already handed over to the Director of Department of Social Welfare waiting to be forwarded to the ministry of Justice for a review and then to the cabinet and the National Assembly for signing and ratification. This of course is a tremendous progress in the life of persons with disabilities in the Gambia. However, more efforts are needed both from the government and society at large in order to end the long standing discrimination persons with disabilities are facing. We need more policy on the improvement on the lives of persons with disabilities such as "Road and Traffic policy for persons" with disability just to name a few among the lot.

We all know that our roads and transportation system in the Gambia is not disability friendly. Drivers frequently drive at high speeds without taking note of the situation of persons with disabilities and we need improvement in this area and make them friendly for the wheelchair user as a way of removing barriers in the area of easy movement.

We are further appealing to the government of the Gambia through department of social welfare, which is our line to take note of our situation when proving health care to people and make it disability friendly -- there is need, for having sign language interpreters and building of ramps in all the major healthcare centers in the country and also to make it easy for visually impaired patients, prescriptions also are needed in Braille.

This year's commemoration is a blessing from the sky as it provides us the opportunity to address exclusion by focusing on promoting accessibility and removing all types of barriers in society.

In the Gambia for the past years we were known to call this day a world disability day. However, it is agreed to be called the international day for persons with disabilities and and from this day, we are appealing to all Gambians to join the international world and use the internationlly accepted terms.

I thank all of those who join us here today and even those who are not here with us in appearance but are here with us in spirit. I am praying for all those in sick bed both in hospitals and in homes for a speedy recovery and May God bless us of all.

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