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Opinions of Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Columnist: Kwaku Badu

It’s immoral for Mahama to take advantage of disabled people

All leaders who have moral principles, and are serious, forward-thinking and committed, rather invest meaningfully in their people, including the disabled, and do away with meaningless slogans and systematic propagation of propagandistic materials.

We hear President Mahama has chosen to make his 2016 Manifesto booklet accessible to visually impaired people by producing braille version.

The idea is laudable. However, the all-important question one may ask is: why hasn’t the government produced accessible versions of important national documents like the Constitution of Ghana all this while?

The fact of the matter is that President Mahama and his government have not helped and supported disabled people meaningfully over the years, so it is somewhat ironic for them to make their Manifesto accessible to disabled people in the wake of the 2016 electioneering campaign.

For the purposes of this article, I will define disability as: “Any physical, mental and sensory condition that restricts a person’s movements, senses or Activities”.

Actually, the term disability is formally used to refer to deformations that are severe enough to interfere with, or restrict normal day-to-day living activities.

According to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “persons with disabilities include those who have substantial long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

Therefore, it is important to note that disabilities can be permanent, temporary, or episodic. Disabilities can affect people from birth, or could be acquired later in life through injury or illness.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) for instance, estimates that approximately 750 million people, or 10% of the world’s population, have a disability. In Ghana, the disabled welfare groups estimate that 10% of Ghanaians have some form of physical or sensory impairment.

Clearly, then, it is indefensible for society to ignore disabled people, notwithstanding the fact that one does not become disabled volitionally or chooses to have no eyesight for instance.

In Ghana, if one becomes disabled during his/her later life, the usual belief among society is either the individual might have been cursed for committing a sin or the refusal of the family to observe taboos.

In the past, and even in many communities in Ghana today, if a child is born with a deformity, it is deemed to be as a result of evil spirits, a failure of the family to keep taboos, or some type of witchcraft. In some instances infanticide is performed or the child is ostracised in perpetuity.

The child may also be abandoned at an orphanage or sent to beg on the streets (the usual abode for Ghana's disabled population).

To put it bluntly, disabled people are seen by the vast majority of Ghanaians, including Mahama and his NDC government, as useless and unproductive, hence enduring harsh treatments in society.

Even though Article 29 (4) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana stipulates: "Disabled persons shall be protected against all exploitations; all regulations and all discriminations; abusive or degrading nature”, the framework has been ineffective.

Besides, the Parliament of Ghana pragmatically enacted the Disability Discrimination Act in 2006, albeit its full implementation is yet to be seen.

Despite the ostensible desperate attempts by policy makers to include disabled people in the nation building, disabled people have remained marginalised to date, and not being somehow accepted as integral and productive members of society.

Unfortunately, when disabled people are shown, the focus is mainly on their impairments. In actual fact, society obtusely views disabled people as “potential problem” or to put it euphemistically, outcasts.

The all-important question then is: is it because disabled people are seen by society as unproductive or shiftless lots?

The fact of the matter is that disabled person has substantial long-term adverse effect on his/her ability to carry out day-to-day normal living activities, thus requires help and support in order to make any meaningful contribution in society.

Nevertheless, a Ghanaian disabled does not receive any meaningful help and support within society that will ensure his/her full participation in the nation building.

Ironically, however, the estimated 10% of Ghana population (disabled population) face total alienation. “No country can afford to turn its back on 10% of its population” (UNESCO/UNICEF, 1997).

Disappointingly, however, disabled people in Ghana have been facing exclusions from the nation building for far too long. Notwithstanding the fact that Ghana’s Constitution states: “The recognition that the most secure democracy is the one that assures the basic necessities of life for its people as a fundamental duty”.

The Constitution however states: “Steps will be taken to ensure the protection and promotion of all other basic human rights and freedoms, including the rights of the disabled, the aged, children and other vulnerable groups in development processes”.

Nevertheless, the successive governments have failed woefully to provide meaningful help and support to disabled people in Ghana.

In compendium, there are no meaningful welfare programmes for disabled people in Ghana.

The fact of the matter is that the government lacks empathetic qualities. In other words, the government does not see the need to support those in such an unfortunate situation.

I think it is about time Ghana government emulated the altruistic and pragmatic attitudes of people like former president of Mexico, Vincente Fox.

It would be recalled that during general debate of the fifty-sixth session of the General Assembly (UN 2001), President Vincente Fox called upon the international community to combat poverty and social exclusion.

He stated: “Societies should involve all citizens as stakeholders and that a just world must be inclusive of all groups”.

For that reason Mexico proposed establishment of a "Special Committee" to study the elaboration of an international convention on promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. Their findings resulted in the United Nations Convention for the rights of persons with disabilities.

Verily, disability does not mean inability, for if disabled are given the opportunity, most disabled people can contribute meaningfully to society.

Someone may not have a full-functioned brain; a leg to walk; an eye to see; a hand to lift objects, nonetheless, might still have something to contribute to society.

In that regard, does it make sense to exclude them from the nation building?

The answer to the preceding question is no, in my opinion, because most disabled people have subtle mind or individual consciousness, and can equally contribute to the nation building with meaningful help and support.

However, disabled people are not able to contribute meaningfully at the moment because they lack the required help and support from the government and their respective families.

It is against this background that I detest President Mahama and his NDC government’s shameful ploy to canvass for votes from the disabled people, given that disabled people have been side-lined in the nation building all these years.

I suggest there should be a nationwide education to highlight the issues of disability.

The education should: place emphasis on empathy-the ‘attributions of one’s own feelings to a situation. In other words, if for argument sake, individuals found themselves in the ‘shoes of a disabled person’ how would individuals handle all the discriminations?