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Opinions of Friday, 10 January 2014

Columnist: Ali, Tanti Robert

Integrating the youth with disability in the Ghanaian society

and the way forward

In most societies in Africa, persons with disabilities are seen as hopeless and people who are not fit to be part of the larger society. The African culture and beliefs have worsened the situation of people living with disability. According to a study conducted by Abosi and Ozoji in 1985 in Nigeria, Africans in general, attribute causes of disabilities to witchcraft, juju, sex-linked factors, and God /supernatural forces. In actual fact there are some societies which see people with disability as albatross on their neck and sometimes try to get rid of them. Studies show that ignorance, neglect, superstition and fear are social factors that have contributed to the isolation of persons with disabilities.
The desire to avoid whatever is associated with evil has affected people's attitudes towards people with disabilities simply because disability is associated with evil. Most of these negative attitudes are mere misconceptions that stem from lack of proper understanding of disabilities and how they affect functioning. "These misconceptions stem directly from the traditional systems of thought, which reflect magical-religious philosophies that can be safely called superstition" (Abosi, 2002).
Recently in Ghana the Paramount Chief of the Seikwa Traditional Area, Nana Kwaku Dwomoh Ankoan shocked the entire nation when he made what can best be described as a highly disappointing statement against the nomination of Dr. Henry Seidu Daannaa as the Minister designate for Chieftaincy and Culture by President John Dramani Mahama. In condemning the nomination of Dr. Daannaa, Nana Ankoan did not mince words when he stated that the nominee’s disability did not make him a good candidate for the Chieftaincy and Culture Ministry. He went further to threaten that if Parliament goes ahead to approve Dr. Daannaa’s appointment, no chief will be prepared to accept him to their palace because custom does not permit persons with disability to enter chief’s palaces.
Whilst several civil society organisations unreservedly condemn the comments by Nana Kwaku Dwomo Ankoan, I believe it is a reflection of the way the Ghanaian culture over the years has treated people with disability. This is because the Chief of Seikwa based his argument on custom and traditions which prevents such people from accessing some traditional facilities.
Our customs and traditions, instead of being used to advance the common good of our societies, have rather become tools for denigrating hard working members of the society merely on the basis of their disability. There is little doubt that the time for change has come!
One major constrain of people with disability is their inability to be recognised and participate in the governance process at all levels because they are marginalise and discriminated. The bastardisation of Dr. Daanna is a manifestation of the realities on the grounds on how people with disability are treated. For the purpose of this article, I would love to dwell on how the youth who are disabled should be managed so that they can attain their utmost potential in life despite the marginalisation and discrimination hurdle they have to deal with.
“Young people with disability constitute a significant proportion of the youth population in Ghana. They are faced with numerous challenges including stigmatisation and discrimination, deprivation of fundamental human rights to basic amenities and services, exclusion from decision- making processes which altogether impede their ability to contribute to and benefit from the socio-economic development of our country. Yet when empowered the disabled can become key actors in the fight against poverty and drivers of social change” (Youth Manifesto, 2012, Page16).
I am excited that Dr. Daannaa, rather than beg for alms by the road side, has risen to such great heights. He has defied societal expectations and broken through the cultural and social barriers to receive education to the highest level, attending no mean an institution than the revered Harvard University in the United States. He must serve as a role model for the youth especially those in similar situation rather than mock him and use obviously outmoded customs to push him out of public office. The least we can do as Ghanaians is to encourage him and hold him up as a role model for other persons with disability, especially the youth who find themselves on the streets of the cities as beggars. Dr. Daannaa is a role model worthy of emulation by all Ghanaians.
Now what is the way forward for young people who are disabled?
The House of Chiefs should move a step further to sensitise its members on modern concepts of democratic governance, including social inclusion. All customs and traditions which are in conflict with these governance principles must be modified or discarded altogether. We want to see our palaces embracing all manner of people, particularly socially disadvantaged groups like persons with disability.
In addition, the Youth manifesto has outlined some actions that must be taken to promote the full participation of young people with disability in the development process of the Ghanaian society. Here are some actions the manifesto calls for on page 16.
? Ensuring that young people with disability have equal and effective access to education, training, health care services, employment, sports, physical education, cultural and recreational activities. All stakeholders must work towards eliminating any obstacle that may have negative implications for the full integration of mentally and physically challenged youth into society.
? Including young people with disability in all decision-making processes at all levels and removing all forms of social exclusions. Mentally and physically challenged youth should be well represented in all sectors and levels of the Ghanaian economy so as to advance the interest of challenged youth.
? Expanding scholarship schemes for the disabled and brilliant youth to access education and skills development.
? Ensuring that young people with disability have access to all forms of employment opportunities without any differential treatment. The job market in Ghana should be redesigned to absorb disabled persons and to encourage and motivate them to progress as far as possible in their careers.
? Building special schools and training facilities for the disabled across the country with special Information and Communication Technology facilities to enhance their learning and capacity building process. This should fit into a broader national effort to provide a wide variety of training and skills development opportunities with adequate learning and teaching materials for physically and mentally challenged youth. Financially resourcing these special educational facilities is key.
Dr. Daanna has proven to the entire world that disability is indeed not inability and he must be used to change the perception a lot of people have about people with disability.

The writer is also the Executive Director of Youth Alliance for Development; a Youth focused NGO in Obuasi.