Feature Article of Thursday, 31 May 2012

Columnist: Viwotor, Theodore M. K.

Time Is Due For A Disability Sports Centre In Ghana

By Theodore M. K. Viwotor (Multi Sports columnist)

Section 39 of the Persons With Disability Act (2006) Act 715, ‘Access to sporting events, festivals and cultural activities’ states that, “ The Ministry responsible for Education and Sports, the District Assemblies and the National Commission for Culture shall as far as practicable ensure, through the provision of adequate facilities, programmes and incentives, that persons with disability have access to sports and cultural events’.

This section, part of an act passed by the Parliament of Ghana in 2006, stipulates that the Ministry of Youth and Sports, as well as Education and Culture, put in place adequate facilities to ensure access to sports and cultural events by Persons With Disability (PWDs). This part of the act emphasizes on the word access that has over the years been given limited interpretation in the country.

When the word ‘access for persons with disability’ is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind or is implied is access to physical structures and infrastructure, especially at public facilities. This understanding of the word may stem from the situation in Ghana where many, if not most, of the public and private structures are not disability-friendly, thereby denying many PWDs of easy access or in some instances granting them no access at all. Even the building that houses the Ministry of Youth and Sports does not have an easy access route for persons using wheel chairs, among others.

So, to many people, an organization’s provision of structures or facilities that give access to physically disabled persons is enough when it comes to access. Therefore, when the act was passed, what many institutions sought to do was to make such provision without truly looking at the broader perspective of access to persons with disability.

It is worthy of notice that, what constitutes access for an amputee footballer or cerebral palsy person is different from what constitutes access for the blind or deaf. This may sound a bit strange but when we look at access from the point of view of one’s ability to benefit from an activity or facility without hindrance due to disability, we shall appreciate this better.

The issue of access has not been addressed comprehensively by public and private institutions over the years either due to historical precedence (when disability issues did not take centre-stage), lack of resources (as has been trumpeted over and over again) and lack of education (as we have today by civil society organizations and NGOs). When some structures were being put up some years back, very little was thought of about the disabled so it was done, excluding them. This would excuse those who happened to have done that. Today, it is inexcusable because much information has been put in place and the laws have been made to guide anyone trying to construct a structure or facility for public use. From the sports perspective, access to sport event, to a large extent, has been neglected by our authorities who would definitely use the same excuses such as lack of resources, to run away from responsibility.

First of all, to make access to sporting events possible, it is incumbent on the sporting authorities to put in place facilities that are not only disability-friendly but tailored to meet the specific needs of the disabled. These two facilities are different from each other and we need to consider it with much more seriousness. A disability-friendly facility may give considerable access to PWDs but a disability-tailored facility is the one built to meet the specific needs of persons with disability. For instance, a disability-friendly facility may have an access route for the physically disabled but may not be appropriate for other types of disabled persons. The amputee may use some facilities in some gyms meant for able-bodied persons but the cerebral palsy may not. The blind may need assistance to use such facilities so when we have many blind persons visiting the gym, they would need more assistants. However, when the gyms have devices that respond to the needs of the blind and others, they become friendlier and can be termed as disability-tailored (my own words).

It is unfortunate that, in Ghana we are yet to have a public centre for disability sports; yet, we want to win medals at the Paralympic Games, All Africa Games, among others. Surprisingly, our disabled athletes always defy the odds to honour the nation. In some competitions, they are the first or only persons who come home with medals and laurels. They use the same facilities as their able-bodied counterparts, without adaptable devices but make do with them and still make it. When they come out with flying colours, they are made to struggle to get paid for their services to the nation.

In a sharp contrast, elsewhere in Europe and in other Western states, PWDs are given more attention and treated with much more respect, so far as facilities and incentives are concerned. For instance, in the United Kingdom (UK), there are many disability sports centres that create sporting opportunities for PWDs and enable them to explore their talents, as they keep themselves healthier and stronger. They do not only have disability sports centres but also various disability sports for the diverse forms of disabilities. Wheel chair basket ball, Amputee Football, Swimming for all persons with disability and the list goes on.

As a result of these amenities, PWDs feel belonged and part of the mainstream society and do participate in day-to-day activities of life without much feeling of discrimination. Disability sports, therefore, become a tool for integration and for fighting discrimination against them.

The next Olympic and Paralympic Games in London this year should not only be one of those games but rather a learning event for Ghana’s officials who would follow the delegation of athletes and sportsmen. They need to learn from other countries, build relationships that would lead to the setting up of sporting facilities for our brothers and sisters with various forms of disability that would equip and integrate more into society.

Much cannot expected from the current disabled athletes attending the Paralympic Games because much has not been done for them. However, when a disability sports centre is actualized (a dream I hold on to with much hope) Ghana can send disabled sports men to whichever event and look forward to more laurels. For now, competing with more endowed athletes at the London 2012 Games could only be a build up on experience and perhaps a learning process.

This is the time for Ghana to consider the setting up of a disability sports centre and a partnership with the private sector and other international organisation would be of great help. If this is not done by the next Olympic and Paralympic Games, I will join other PWDs in bowing our heads in shame. The writer is also Administrative Secretary of the Ghana Amputee Football Federation (GAFF) as well as News Editor of the Daily Democrat