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Opinions of Saturday, 26 May 2012

Columnist: Sarpong, Kofi

Who Is Disabled In Ghana? Part 1

I stumbled on a crowd in Kumasi recently who appeared to be watching something with faces showing a combination of fear, dislike and disdain. I was not interested but as I tried to meander my way past the increasing numbers, I heard one of them say, ‘abonsam yadee paa ni oo’ (this is a devilish illness).

This made me curious so I turned back and inched my way towards the centre of the crowd. Lying in the middle, a good two or three metres from the crowd, was a young man who appeared to be coming out of a seizure. I quickly rushed to his aid amid the gasps and vile comments of sections of the crowd. I helped the young man gingerly get to his feet and continued to chat to him. As I walked him down towards where he could get a tro-tro or taxi to take him home, the unsavoury remarks from the crowd got even worse. One particularly snide remark actually made me feel sorry for our society. A lady said, ‘wohwe ne ho a, gyama aburokyirefoo no bi a, woonom dee se woonom abobo adam se abrofo no aa. Obi a otware na waso ne mu.’ (Meaning, ‘he must be one of those who live abroad. They are mad, just like the whites. Why touch a person who has epilepsy?). The lady was referring to me.

The young man appeared to be ashamed that he was epileptic. I did my best to calm and assure him that all the remarks were made out of ignorance. What shocked me most was his answer when I asked him if he was on any medication. He had never been to hospital because one of his aunts, a witch who had no children of her own, had spiritually afflicted him with the condition. Even as I said goodbye and wished him well, I could not stop thinking of how out of touch with reality our society can be sometimes. Why blame a poor woman? Assuming the aunt was spiritually responsible, could he still not avail himself of hospital facilities and medication? What about the reaction of the crowd?

I started to ask questions only to find to my utter dismay, that most people see disability as only physical, when people use wheelchairs. In the days that followed I started to research into disabilities in Ghana. The first port of call was The Persons with Disability Act 2006 which shocked me more than any piece of legislation that I have ever come across. The Act makes no attempt to define disability. Is it any wonder the attitude of the crowd that witnessed the epileptic seizure?

The more I read the Act the more frustrated I became. I am no legal brain, but I do not think that the State can successfully prosecute any person who breaches any of the provisions of the Act. Disability is not defined so how can one fall foul of the law? Clause 25, for example, says, “a motorist shall stop for a person with disability who shows an intention to cross the road either at a pedestrian crossing or at an appropriately designated point for crossing by persons with disability”. How would a driver identify a person with disability, and how would he know the intention? In a country where non disabled people are at the mercy of drivers, what chance people with disabilities? Who monitors this particular provision? Our MPs (I hate the word parliamentarians), did well to enact that piece of legislation, but it falls woefully short of impacting positively on the lives of many people with disabilities. As matters stand now, any one individual’s definition cannot be successfully challenged because the law itself is silent on the issue.

If we are serious about building an inclusive society which will afford all the opportunity to realize their potential and contribute to national development, we need to critically look at the Act again.

Kofi Sarpong MBE

Peckham, London

The writer of the article, Kofi Sarpong-Boachie, worked as a Disability Employment Adviser with the British Civil Service until his retirement in November 2010. He was awarded the MBE by The Queen in The New Years Honours in 2011.