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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Columnist: Kwaku Badu

President Akufo-Addo, your earnest gesture of goodwill is estimable, but

Let me begin by thanking the current NPP government for graciously increasing and releasing the disability welfare funds for 2018.

Apparently, all leaders who have moral principles rather invest meaningfully in their people, including the vulnerable in society and thereby doing away with meaningless slogans and systematic propagation of propagandistic materials.

Indeed, people with various forms of impairments are extremely grateful for your dint of effort towards bridging the social mobility chasm through the rational distribution of national resources.

We should not lose sight of the fact that disability is not reducible to a particular group of people. In fact, every human being is susceptible in one way or another in a life time.

“Disability is part of the human condition. Almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life, and those who survive to old age will experience increasing difficulties in functioning” (The World Report On Disability, 2011, p. 10).

Interestingly, the World Health Organization's report reveals that over a billion people are estimated to live with some form of disability. Between 110 million (2.2%) and 190 million (3.8%) people of 15 years and older have significant difficulties in functioning.

The report stresses that in the years ahead, disability will be an even greater concern because its prevalence is on the rise. And this is due to ageing populations and the higher risk of disability in older people as well as the global increase in chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and mental health disorders (WHO, 2011).

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), disability is increasingly understood as a human rights issue.

Besides, disability is an important development issue with an increasing body of evidence showing that persons with disabilities experience worse socioeconomic outcomes and poverty than persons without disabilities (World Report on Disability, 2011).

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”.

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

Thus the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stresses: “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.”

On the other hand, the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) subsumes disability as an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions. ICF stresses that impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.

In effect, disability is not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person's body and features of the society in which he or she lives.

In theory, therefore, disability is a continuum rather than often categorizing people with disabilities as a separate group: disability is a matter of more or less, not yes or no.

In other words, disability is the interaction between individuals with a health condition (e.g. cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and depression) and personal and environmental factors (e.g. negative attitudes, inaccessible transportation and public buildings, and limited social supports).

In practice, however, overcoming the difficulties faced by people with disabilities requires interventions to remove environmental and social barriers (WHO:'DISABILITY').

In the United Kingdom for instance, apart from the above categories of disability, the Equality Act 2010 classifies people with progressive conditions as disabled. A progressive condition is a condition that gets worse over time. For instance, people with HIV infection, cancer or multiple sclerosis automatically meet the disability definition under the Equality Act 2010.

If the preceding acceptations are anything to go by, then I can confidently aver that each and every one is susceptible to a disability.

Apparently, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) clearly subsumes what human rights mean in the context of disability.

The first human rights treaty of the twenty-first century, the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities represents a crucial solution towards realising the right of disabled people to be treated as full and equal citizens.

So, by ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, the government of Ghana is committed to promoting and protecting the full enjoyment of human rights by disabled people and ensuring they have full equality under the law.

All said and done, it is of heightened importance that the government of Ghana pays particular attention to Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities which sets out steps to ensuring that disabled people are living independently and being included in the wider community.

In all honesty, it is manifestly 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).

Even though Article 29 (4) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana stresses: "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.

But 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.

It is absolutely true 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, 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).

It is a fact that disabled people in Ghana have disappointingly been facing exclusions from the nation building for far too long. Suffice it to state 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.

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.

In sum, going forward, the government of Ghana must adhere to the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and in particular, Article 19, by ensuring that disabled people are living independently and being included in the community.

References: - - Trends in health conditions associated with disability:

UN (2008) The Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities