5 January 2014

Uganda: Let Us Expand School Access for Learners With Disabilities


Dr Peter Mwesige, the executive director of the African Centre for Media Excellence (Acme), often testifies to the power of activism.

Not so long ago, a woman with disability visited the NGO's premises in Bunga and complained that there was no access for wheelchair-bound people. Within weeks, Acme had taken action and whenever the complainant visits, she can access the main building via a ramp.

This little story comes to us today, as we launch a series of features looking at access to education by persons with disabilities (PWDs).

The series was the brainchild of the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (Nudipu) and it fits in with our conviction about speaking out and standing up for marginalised voices in our community. A casual look at schools in the country, and recent studies by Nudipu, show that construction projects rarely consider access for PWDs, for instance, by including ramps in their bills of quantities.

A key exception is facilities built by NGOs. Yet by this omission, the schools inadvertently keep already-marginalised learners out of education. This is contrary to part IV, particularly section 20 of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2006, which imposes duties and obligations on people constructing public buildings.

These duties include construction of ramps and such other things like railings around staircases. Section 21 of the same Act provides for access to information for people with various forms of disability, including a requirement for the brailing of public information.

Admittedly, many of these things cost money, which is often in short supply. Yet ramps are neither very difficult nor very costly to build. But more than money, these things require conviction on the part of the government. That conviction would translate into awareness creation, which - as the Acme story demonstrates - can translate into action.

Yes there are many government schools with ramps, for instance; but as we report in our series, more needs to be done so that these public schools become the norm rather than the exception.

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