June 2011 saw the publication of the first-ever World report on disability. The WHO report reveals that of the one billion people in the world who have a disability, approximately 150 million encounter significant adversities in their daily lives.
In Ghana, an estimated 2.5 million people live with a disability, making them the country’s largest minority. People with disabilities face severe social stigma, creating a culture of entrenched discrimination. Ostracised from society, many live under the misguided belief that their lives are not worthy of respect. This should not be the case in a country that five years ago this week passed a law designed to address this inequality.
June 23rd marks the fifth anniversary since the passing of the Persons with Disability Act in Ghana. It should be a time for celebration and reflection upon the great strides that have been made in improving the lives of Ghana’s disabled. However the great strides expected have instead turned out to be a few faltering steps. Rather than celebrate, we lament this inexcusable failure of the government to fulfil the commitment it has made to its most vulnerable citizens.
The Act confers a host of legal rights upon people with disabilities in Ghana. It guarantees access to public places, free general and specialist medical care, education, employment and transportation. The Act also regulates the commitments and other responsibilities of public and private service providers. However five years on, implementation has been at best poor, and in many areas non-existent. Despite the government’s legal obligation to provide free education and establish special schools for disabled children, many children with disabilities are still excluded from any form of education. Earlier this year, a visit by the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) to 233 schools revealed that no disability facilities were provided, denying disabled children access to any form of education. The healthcare system is unequipped to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities and the state of mental healthcare is pitiful. Commitments made to employment creation have been ignored and where persons with disabilities do gain employment they continue to face many constraints.
Despite repeated calls from civil society to formulate a comprehensive disability policy in Ghana, no such framework exists. There can be no excuses for this. The Act provided for the establishment of the National Council on Persons with Disability to formulate policies and strategies for broad implementation. However it has taken three years for the government to establish the Council and almost five years for guidelines for the disbursement and management of the now 3% share of the District Assembly Common Fund assigned to persons with disabilities to be produced. A recent study by SEND Ghana found that out of the districts that are aware of the existence of the 3% DACF, only a third of people with disabilities in these district know how to access it.
Implementation of legislation takes time but the delay we see in Ghana’s disability law is excessive. Disabled people continue to have their rights abused on a daily basis, as a direct result of the government’s failure to uphold the very rights they themselves have conferred upon this already vulnerable group. Running parallel to the delay in implementation is the continued deferral of government to ratify the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which sets an international standard recognising the equal worth and dignity of all persons living with a disability. Despite being on the first countries to sign the Convention on it’s opening day, it was only four years later, in December 2010 that the government indicated its commitment to ratification. Six months later, no further progress has been made.
People with disabilities have the right to live independently in a society that actively encourages their participation in all areas of life. If Ghana wants to preserve its reputation as a respected country it must protect and uphold human rights for all of its citizens. On the fifth anniversary of its passing, we call on the NCPD to take urgent action to ensure that the legal obligations enshrined in the Persons with Disability Act are met. We urge the government to ratify the CRPD and send a message to the world that they are serious about the human rights of all people with disabilities.
Alison Picton, CHRI Africa