There is scanty data on the current number of persons with disabilities in Uganda, but according to the 2002 national census, every 4 out of 25 people or 16 per cent of the population are disabled.
The Persons with Disabilities (PWD) Act, 2006, defines a person with disability as "a person having physical, intellectual, sensory or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of that person."
According to the International Labour Organisation factsheet, Persons with Disabilities in Uganda face extreme conditions of poverty, have limited opportunities for accessing education, health, suitable housing and employment opportunities.
The presence of so many PWDs begging on the streets of Kampala is circumstantial evidence that their needs have not been given the deserved attention.
Truthfully, we stand guilty for not prioritising PWDs by creating an orderly system that provides them with social security.
It is disheartening to see so many of our fellow human beings, desperately begging for money on the streets. PWDs are human like everyone but who happen to be disadvantaged by a disability. They too have needs as all of us do.
Civilised societies take care of their vulnerable members. The duty to do so is both moral and legal, and for our case, a constitutional one! Article 32 of the Constitution provides for the duty of the State to take affirmative action measures in favour of groups marginalised on the basis of, among others, disability.
While legislative measures have been taken to address the needs of PWDs, including the National Council for Disability Act, 2003 and the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2006 stipulating a plethora of rights for PWDs, these laws have not been effectively implemented to bring about the desired results. Further, the existing laws do not go far in addressing the needs of ordinary PWDs.
Section 33 of the PWDs Act, 2006, for instance, enjoins government to take affirmative action measures, which are specified under Section 10 but these measures do not address the unique needs of PWDs having regard to the extent of their disability. By and large, most affirmative action measures such as tax exemption to encourage employment of PWDs help mainly educated PWDs, who might have moderate functionality.
The ordinary illiterate PWD who may not have any means of support is left to survive by begging, as the magnitude of the problem around Kampala reveals. Affirmative action measures in education and employment are, therefore, not helpful to such a man or woman who, for example, lost all limbs or is unable to perform basic functions unsupported.
There are categorisations of degrees of disability under Section 4 and 1st schedule to the PWDs Act of 2006 referred to as "disability codings."
A suitable approach is for these to guide government in implementing specific policies that address category-specific needs. For PWDs that lack any capacity for self-support such as those who cannot walk on their own or those suffering from diseases that impair basic body functions, the government should provide a monthly living allowance.
The United Kingdom, for instance, provides disability personal allowance, transport provisions, home and housing benefits depending on the condition. Those categorised as "needing care and support" are entitled to direct payments, disability facilities grants and housing benefit for low incomes earners.
Of course, this is not to suggest that we should provide similar benefits like those in the UK but we can progressively address the unique needs of PWDs if we give them priority. For those that are skilled, provision of employment opportunities is ideal. For those that neither have income, nor the means of generating it, provision of a monthly living allowance better addresses their needs. They need cash to survive.
If we do this, perhaps we could save PWDs the burden of being conditioned to begging, which dehumanises and degrades their dignity. Otherwise, the status quo reflects poorly on our character as a nation and is a serious moral question we have to ponder.
Mr Birungi is a lawyer