The Advocacy Officer of the Ghana Federation of the Disabled (GFD), Isaac Tuggum says persons with disabilities want their constitutional rights respected and not sympathy.
He says many wrongly believe that persons with disability need charity and so rudely sling coins to, or yank wheelchairs of, the disabled without first ascertaining if they need help.
Giving anecdotal evidence on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show to back his argument that too many Ghanaians see persons with disabilities as needy, Mr. Tuggun said, a member of the Ghana Blind Association once visited the head of a state institution in Accra.
The officer’s secretary alerted him in local language that a ‘blind man is here to see you.’
The officer simply directed her to ‘just find something (money) for him and let him go.”
These kinds of prejudices and societal misconceptions, he said, are so pervasive that coupled with physical and structural barriers, they make many persons with disabilities virtually incapable of living normal lives and contributing meaningfully to national development.
He said there are those “who see persons with disability as passive recipients of [welfare] benefits, instead of considering them as partners in development and this is the problem because it makes persons with disability dependant.”
Mr. Tuggun asserted that, “society must accept us for who we are, that is diversity, and provide the enabling environment for us to contribute to development of the society and in the decision-making process.”
The rights asserted by persons with disability, he argued are universal in nature because “disability can affect you irrespective of your social background; irrespective of the country you live in; irrespective of whatever you’ve achieved in life, you can be a professor, you can be a pilot, disability does not discriminate and that is what we need to look at.”
He is unhappy that the churches have not done much to change perceptions and attitudes towards persons with disabilities.
He said pastors are evangelising daily on radio and television and yet they do not preach against discrimination.
In fact “most of the churches are physically not accessible; some do not even have sign language interpretation; so is the salvation of the disabled not important”?
Mr. Tuggun, who became paralysed at 15 after falling over a wall, said the state had failed to enforce provisions of the various laws and conventions on disability.
“Persons with disability have rights, just like every citizen, and their rights are backed by laws; if you look at Article 29 of the 1992 constitution, it talks about what to do to make sure that persons with disabilities are integrated into the society ; are part of mainstream society.”
Regrettably, successive governments, he said, have not enforced the provisions of the various pieces of legislation on the subject such as the Persons With Disabilities Act of 2006, (Act 715).
“If you look at the transitional provision in Section 60 of Act 715, it gives a 10-year moratorium for all existing buildings to be modified to make them disability friendly and this expires next year, but as we sit today, if you go to the government ministries, departments and agencies, everything remains the same,” he said.
If the government is not complying with the provisions of a law it passed, “where will it get the moral justification to ask private organisations to comply with the provisions of the Act”? he asked.
Contributing to the discussions, Elizabeth Akua Nyarko Patterson, Founder of Girls Education Initiative Ghana said, “Our culture needs to make a 360 shift.”
She was involved in a bus crash in the United States at age 18. She suffered a stroke which affected her left arm and leg.
She said she suffered a massive shock when she came to Ghana because unlike the US where the structures exist to enable her to live a normal life regardless of her disability, things were completely different in Ghana.
“When I first came to Ghana, a family member told my mum to let us go to an all-night so they would exorcise me of whatever demons” she thought evil spirits were the cause of my situation, she said.
This gave her an indication of the mentality of the average Ghanaian when it comes to disability.