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Making the Future Accessible for Persons with Disabilities

In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which came into force on 3rd May 2008. This Convention is to serve as a means of improving respect for the rights of Persons with Disabilities [PWDs] who, according to the World Health Organisation, comprise some 15 per cent of the world’s population.

Overall, the Convention promotes the rights of PWDs, sets out responsibilities on member states and civil societies to respect those rights and further recognises disability as a social construct for which reason society must dismantle the barriers preventing persons with disabilities from participating fully in socioeconomic and political activities in their various communities.  As part of meeting these goals, on 3rd December each year, the UN provides a theme which usually highlights the challenges that confront PWDs, globally, and other relevant matters that need critical redress and attention. This year, the theme for the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities is “The Future is Accessible”.

With an estimated number of 3 million persons living with one form of disability or another, the Government of Ghana ratified the Disability Rights Convention on 21st August 2012 to become the 119th country to sign onto the protocol. Article 29 of the Constitution of Ghana (1992) also guarantees the Rights of Disabled Persons. The Persons with Disability Act passed by the Parliament of Ghana in 2006 further reiterates the rights of PWDs. With all these laws available to promote the wellbeing of PWDs, some questions we need answers to are:

How committed is Ghana to ensuring the full implementation and adherence to its laws on disabilities? How many persons with disabilities are either elected or appointed to political positions? How much support is given to Persons with Disabilities to function effectively at the workplace? And finally, how many sign language interpreters are employed in major hospitals to assist persons with hearing impairment?

As we look forward to the future in Ghana, the most significant barrier that people with disabilities still face is not only getting easy access to public buildings but also, the refusal to accommodate them especially in terms of employment and education.

Access to Legal Education

An unfortunate situation serving as an educational barrier is the access to professional legal training by PWDs. This situation stems from the fact that for the second year running, all visually impaired persons who sat for the law entrance examinations to pursue the professional course have been unsuccessful. Last year (2018), three persons sat for the exams and this year (2019) the same number took the exams, but none was admitted. In spite of the disabilities and the challenges associated with it in Ghana, some PWDs have risen above all these hindrances to seek the opportunity to serve our motherland as legal practitioners. However, the opportunity seems to have been blown away. Given the fact that no visually impaired person has passed the exams for two years, it has become very frustrating and discouraging for other students with disability pursuing the law programme at the various faculties.

With all these problems facing us in Ghana, it is not clear whether the future is indeed accessible for PWDs. It is imperative that we continuously advocate for persons with disability challenges so that those in authority will stay committed to ensuring and creating a conducive environment for all.

As individuals who have defied all odds to obtain legal education, we humbly appeal to the General Legal Counsel of Ghana to consider an affirmative action that will give a special admission concession to the students with disabilities who have successfully obtained LLBs. Such a deliberative action will lend credence to Ghana’s action plan to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 that addresses inclusive education.

Also, considering how extremely difficult it has been for PWDs to receive the needed support to successfully complete their education at the various universities, it is necessary for private employers, government and all stakeholders to come to our aid to provide equal access to employment and education.

In conclusion, no person has a disability instead, disability is created by the society and the systems put in place. Ghana therefore needs to improve its systems to provide opportunities for Persons living with Disabilities and make life for them more comfortable. If this is done, the future will be accessible to them and they will be able to achieve anything they set their minds to. Tomorrow may never come so, if there is any other thing to do, then it must be today and now.

Written by Carruthers Tetteh – [email protected]