Feature Article of Monday, 13 August 2012

Columnist: Naami, Tina

Where are our rights?

By: Dr. Tina Naami

Sometimes, I am tempted to believe that persons with disability are unable to enjoy their rights stipulated under Article 29 of the constitution of the Republic of Ghana and in the Persons with Disability Act. Infact, sometimes, it seems we are not a part of the society, as we are treated differently and not given the attention and respect we deserve like everyone else, simply due to our disabilities. Should one’s disability become an impediment in his/her life? Should provisions always be made for persons with disability, as outlined in the Persons with Disability Act or should we wait till a situation arises before we hurriedly act? Should we always say to the faces of persons with disability that something would be done about a situation because of their disabilities? The Ghanaian society has taken so much for granted since time immemorial. It is high time we change our attitudes towards those with disabilities.
Where are our rights as citizens if we cannot exercise them as everyone else? Where are our rights if we cannot do what everyone else does, not because of our impairment, but barriers created by the society? Must we no longer travel because of our disabilities? I want to shed more light on the extent to which the right of persons with disability to travel is severely compromised.
On Friday the 6th of July, I was traveling from Tamale to Wa by the metro mass transit. I usually buy two tickets when travelling by public transport so I can be more comfortable. I was at the station as per the reporting time. Then it was time to board the bus and, as usual, I must first talk to the conductor to allow me to board the bus first. When I was boarding the bus he questioned my motive of buying two tickets. He shook his head when I told him the reason for buying the tickets but didn’t say anything. Unfortunately, the seats were farther to the back-numbers 42/43. It was a challenge boarding the bus, which is not surprising since no single bus in the country is accessible to persons with disability.
I usually will figure out how to board a vehicle before I actually get in. As I did that, the passengers were getting irritated. But I focused on boarding the bus and managed my way in, only to meet another huddle - several bags of grains on the aisle. Again, I had to figure out how to overcome that hurdle. The impatient passengers were behind me dragging their bags and muttering words, which I know without doubt, were insults as usual. I know for sure that they didn’t have any more patience for me and wanted me to get out of their way, although I was traveling with them.
I finally managed to climb one of the bags, making my way to the back, when the conductor asked me to get down and use the back door to get to my seats. That came as a surprise to me because he knew that the aisle was fully loaded and also saw my tickets and yet didn’t say anything. I thanked him but nicely objected to that idea since it was already a struggle to board the bus and another struggle to get out and in. He then asked me to sit on one of the seats in the front row and wait for the station manager to reassign me to different seats. I also objected to this idea. You know why? I was afraid that I would eventually make my way back to the original seats, which is not unusual, and by which time the bus will be too full.
I was nervous that I might be asked to move to my original seats, as the passengers continued boarding the bus, but at that time the aisle could no longer be accessed. It was covered with the passengers’ baggage, the bags of grains serving as the foundation. My worst fears were confirmed when the station manager told me he thought I had just one ticket and, that he was sorry he couldn’t make provisions for two seats. He offered to pay for the other ticket. When I refused to accept his offer, he asked me to go to my original seats. I told him it wasn’t possible at that time due to the overloading of the aisle. I insisted I wasn’t going to trade my two seats for anything. He didn’t know what else to say so he let me sit in the front row.
On another occasion, I was traveling from the US to Accra by Delta Airline. On arrival, I spent close to an hour inside the airline waiting for the lift. I was told that the lift van arrived after the food service van, hence must wait till the food service department completes its assignment-emptying and replacing the food containers. The delta customer service manager told me that the different departments work independently. Therefore, he couldn’t do anything about the situation. He couldn’t ask the food department to move its van, just for a few minutes, for the lift van to come to the gate to get me. You can imagine my frustration. My family was waiting eagerly to see and so was I, after being away from the country close to 2 and half years.
Why must traveling be frustrating for persons with disability? Why must persons with disability encounter such inhuman treatment when traveling? We are aware of the inaccessible transportation system in the country but those human-made barriers seem insensitive to our condition. If not for the baggage always placed in the aisles of buses, traveling could be a bit better and enjoyable for persons with disability. Sometimes, it is difficult to use the bathrooms/toilets when traveling by road due, not only to the inaccessible buses but, also, the difficulty in maneuvering the aisles. I personally do not drink much water nor eat much food when traveling by road to save me the trouble of getting in-and-out of the inaccessible buses and aisles. I know that many other persons with disability go through the same ordeal.
Persons with disability are also citizens of this country so let’s consider them in everything we do. Let’s think about them and integrate their issues in everything we do. For example, persons with disability, like everyone else, will travel for various reasons. Therefore, let’s keep this in mind and make provisions for them. People in-charge of booking passengers and loading commercial buses should remember to reserve, “at least two seats” for persons with disability as stated in the Persons with Disability Act. That will go a long way to minimising some of the challenges persons with disability encounter when traveling. I recommend proper signage in the buses, for example, “Reserved for Persons with Disability.” Proper signage will empower persons with disability to demand their rights when the need arises. We do not always have to depend on the mercies of the society. We do not always need the sympathy of the society to accomplish what is our right. Where are our rights, when we always have to plead with others to allow us to enjoy something that is rightfully ours? Why won’t the society always look down on persons with disability as lesser human beings as, we must always seek its mercy in everything we do?