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The Plight of Persons Living With Disabilities

Twelve years down memory lane, persons with disabilities in Ghana are yet to see the full implementation of the Disability Act 2006, Act 715. It is sad to observe that the glamour and high hopes that surrounded Ghana’s parliament enactment of Act 715 has begun to shrink. The Act which covers key thematic provisions such as rights, accessibility, employment, transport, health and education for persons with disabilities is yet to gain concrete realization in the country.

Consequently, issues of empowerment, inclusiveness and equality, constituting the key elements of the theme for 2018 World Disability Day, ‘EMPOWERING PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES TO ENSURE INCLUSIVENESS AND EQUALITY’, leaves a lot to be desired as far as persons with disabilities in Ghana are concerned. The unbearable challenges for which the provisions were made still persist in the society.

Persons with physical disability still have to be carried to access storey buildings without an elevator or a rump, a visually impaired with his or her brother using the wheel chair has to struggle to get seats in a bus, persons with visual impairment can only attend 7 out of over 475 senior high schools in Ghana, and derogatory words are still being used to describe persons living with disabilities.

Once again, there is evidence of our commitment and ability as Ghanaians to enact beautiful laws to tackle problems in the society. However, their implementation has always not been the best. On this day, as we observe World Disability Day, I call on the government, the media and all concerned individuals and organisations to join in the advocacy for persons with disabilities.

We cannot be indifferent as patriotic citizens watch a fellow citizen who through no fault of his or hers continues to suffer as a result of a disability. Disabilities often occur by accident. One cannot predict or intentionally decide to have a disability. In fact, everyone is prone to disability at any time.

God has blessed all human beings with various abilities such as the ability to see, hear, walk etc. The fact that one has lost an ability does not make one a disabled person, who is viewed as incapable of doing anything in the society. Hence, we all have a role to play to ensure that persons with disabilities live contentedly in the society.

To start with, Section 6 of Act 715 provides that, an owner or an occupier of a building shall ensure that the place is accessible by persons with disabilities. Section 8 provides that anyone who contravenes this provision shall be liable for a fine not exceeding 50 penalty units or to a term not exceeding 3 months imprisonment.

The question now is, how many public buildings have complied with this provision of the law? Several buildings in the country have only one alternative – the staircase. There is no provision for an elevator or a rump for persons with physical impairment. And sometimes in places where an elevator is provided, it may not be operational.

Come to think of it, in a situation where a student who is physically impaired has a lecture at the last floor of a building and the only alternative is the staircase, what do you think will be the fate of such student? That individual has to be carried in order for him to attend that lecture. What could be more dehumanising for a student in this 21st century to be carried by a fellow student just because there is no provision for him or her to move independently? The example presented above is certainly worrying and has adverse implications for time management and the dignity of the person with disability.

It is my view that at that particular moment, it is the owners or the occupiers of that edifice who have created the challenge. The person with physical impairment would not have had any challenge if the right mechanisms were put in place. Who is now challenged? The building which can’t accommodate all persons or the person using the wheelchair which is his/her only means for movement?
Section 17 mandates that the Minister for Education shall by Legislative Instrument designate schools or institutions in each region which shall provide the necessary facilities and equipment that will enable persons with disability to fully benefit from the school or institution.

Twelve years and still counting, there are not enough schools that are integrated for persons with disabilities, especially, visually impaired students. At least, each region in Ghana should have integrated schools. As it stands now there are only seven integrated Senior High School: two in the three northern regions, one in Brong Ahafo Region, one in the Central Region, two in the Volta Region and one in Eastern Region. When this is done, a person will not be compelled to travel a long distance, from one region to another to get education. Why should a citizen’s choice to go to school be restricted to a particular school? When is the Ministry for Education going to convert at least some of the first-class schools in each region – e.g. Accra Academy in the Greater Accra Region, Wesley Girls or Mfantsipim in the Central Region, Prempeh College in the Ashanti Region, etc. – to accommodate persons with disabilities? Doing so will give persons with visual impairment, like all other students, to make their own choices. Who is to be blamed? In my opinion, the system has not been fair to persons with visual impairment.

Section 29 provides that there shall be a reserved seats for persons with disabilities in public transports. Any person who contravenes this provision shall be liable on summary conviction of not exceeding 3 months imprisonment or 50 penalty unit. The question is how many commercial drivers are even aware of this provision?
What is preventing the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and the Motor Transport and Traffic Unit (MTTU) from educating the drivers? Why is it taking us such a long time for drivers to comply with this provision? As things stand, a person with disability has to struggle just to get a seat in most instances.

Section 37 states that a person shall not call a person with disability derogatory names because of the disability of the person. Names or descriptions such as, ‘yarefor’, ‘woadi dem’, ‘apakye’, ‘a sick person’ or ‘a disabled person’ are unfortunately used to describe persons who are visually impaired or physically impaired. The truth, however, is that a physical disability does not make one a sick person. As a matter fact, everyone has a form of disability or the other. The only difference is that, some disabilities are obvious while others are not. Any statement or act which is intended to ridicule or lower or bring a person’s reputation into disrepute is defamatory and must be condemned irrespective of the one who made the statement. Unfortunately, persons with disabilities have over the years suffered from such abuse, even though the law clearly prohibits such use of language.

My heart bleeds whenever I see movies or hear songs that discuss issues of persons with disabilities. More often than not, the concentration has only been on the weaknesses or the negative aspects of the disability. By so doing, these actors intentionally or unintentionally reinforce the erroneous perception that disability is inability. For instance, in some Ghanaian movies, a character takes on the role of a person with disability and uses that to provide comic relief. In this way, a serious issue that demands national attention is turned into a tool for mockery.

In conclusion, there are several persons with disability in Ghana, including Ivor Greenstreet, Dr Henry Seidu Daanaa and Madam Farida Bedwei just to mention a few, who have achieved great feats and done tremendously well in various sectors of the economy. It is, therefore, time to break the silence and call on all and sundry to join in the fight for justice for persons living with disabilities.
Everybody has a role to play!

Carruthers Tetteh
Law Student
President of the Association of Students with Disabilities
University of Cape Coast
[email protected]