Mon, 12 Jul 2010 Feature Article

Tackling the Plights of PWDs: A Path to Development

Tackling the Plights of PWDs: A Path to Development

“One always overcompensates for disabilities. I am thinking of having my entire body surgically removed.” – Douglas Adams

“I congratulate President Obama for taking some time today to remember the 19th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. There is no place in our society for prejudice of any kind, yet it was that long ago when Americans with disabilities were often not given equal rights and opportunities. Whether the cause was ignorance or indifference, it was not acceptable. We can all take pride in how much the ADA has accomplished, which is evident every time you attend a sporting event, ride the subway, or go to work. Yet, there is always more to be done, which is why it's good not only to celebrate our successes, but to look forward at what still must be done. As long as we never forget that every life is a miracle and each person has something to contribute, we will finish the job.”— Former President George H. W. Bush.

The disabled, a group of people which have received less attention from a majority in the country (Ghana), have been with us time immemorial. These groups of people, despite their long existence among us have received unintended harsh treatment from both the government and the citizens of this country, most especially their families; in the sense that bad perception we have about them has been maintained. The bad perception is that disabled are incapable of doing anything due to their physical state, and this has made us belittled their capabilities. Also to worsen their condition, they have been neglected to the extent that a majority of them have to sit by the road side, with cup in hand, begging for their daily bread; a daily routine which is done under the mercy of the climate changing weather.

Also, they experience other unintended harsh treatment such as denial of education, a means through which they can assimilate into the society. The disabled in society are viewed from an angle where only their incapability rather than abilities are seen; thereby shifting the attention of family and loved ones to how the responsibility of caring for their needs will be executed. Most human rights activists and organizations which are concerned about them seems to pay more attention to their feeding and clothing than their education; which can help them depend on themselves when donations made to them cease.

Again, most buildings in the country are built in such a way that it either restricts disables to a portion of it or does not allow them to have access to their use. It is very pathetic that a country such as ours which claims to have laws, which protects the interest of disables, has most of its buildings unfriendly to them.

Lastly, people with disabilities are sometimes regarded as second class citizens of society. They are discriminated on grounds of their disabilities to a point that, they are made to feel like an alien among people. Few people accept them the way they are. Most people seem uncomfortable with them, to the extent of ignoring them in community activities; refused to marry them; insult them; refuse to offer them a means of transport (especially the public vans or 'trotro') and sexually abused. The worst of it all, some employers do not offer employment to qualified disables in their companies due to their physical state.

These harsh treatments shown to our disabled brothers and sisters send an unintended message to them, which is, “they are more or less not needed among us”. Also, one thing we should note is the fact that one is disabled doesn't mean his or her survival only depends on charitable aids by organizations or people in society. But we can help them become the career person they want to be; hence giving them the opportunity to also contribute their quota to society as well as live their desired lifestyle.

All what our brothers and sisters with disabilities want is the support of all to help them live in a world designed primarily for the able-bodied. People with disabilities want to live life no differently than anyone else. They want to be able to go to work or have something lucrative doing, go out to have fun with loved ones, giving the opportunity to show what they have and enjoy life. Hence, fully realizing that must be done within the boundaries of their limitations.

To ensure this, we should know that, the general perception of the community about the educational needs of PWDs is very poor: Many think that people of various disabilities should not go to school as they will not be able to learn or will affect the learning of other “normal” students. Partly these attitudes accounts for why most PWDs never go to school. One dangerous thing which aid in the deprivation of their education is their disabilities not noticed earlier and even for those who have been noticed early, they are forcedly enrolled into schools for the able-bodied thinking they will cope as time goes on (an act driven by lack of funds for parents to enroll their wards into few schools for PWDs which might be far for them to afford even regular transportation than to pay their regular boarding fees). This explains why most of students with disability, which are unnoticed earlier, have difficulties at school because of their disability, including difficulties in travel, learning, communication with teachers and classmates.

In view of this, regular medical tests should be conducted before and after enrollment (in the elementary school) at least once before every term to know the health status of students than to wait until a stage where the student is entering the tertiary institution (where all might be lost).

Again, now that the constitution of Ghana is undergoing a review, it would be of greater necessity if provisions that stress on the installation of structures (such as wheelchair ramps, elevators and others) that will enable PWDs move freely to any part of a building most especially buildings of higher heights (than restricting them to some part of the building) are inserted into the constitution.

Lastly, trends should be changed from been charitable to PWD to showing support to them through the provision of health and social insurance by employing them when they qualify for jobs and provision of vocational training hence showing them how to fish than giving them fish daily (what will happen if the hand that gives the fish is no more there or have no fish to give). And this is not a charge only to be kept by government (to whom PWD would be grateful to if policies are made to ensure the above stated point) but all and sundry.

In conclusion, the Creator of the universe has its way of compensating the physically challenged that is by giving him or her extraordinary ability which in most cases exceeds that of an average able bodied person. And for that matter they should be treated as a blessing but not a burden to society. With the right method of training, the potentials locked deep down within disables in the country can be discovered hence breaking the myth of the disables as being a societal curse or burden.

The author, Dominic Osei Boakye is at the Department of Economics, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi-Ghana. (Email: [email protected])

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