"...We know what to do to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know how to do is to bring people back to life."
The above words were contained in the President of the Republic of Ghana, H.E Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo's last address to the nation on the latest measures to contain the spread of the novel COVID-19 virus. And typical of Ghanaians, a few people have desperately tried to discredit him of that interesting statement; claiming it was a plagiarized quote. On the other hand, he is being hailed across the globe for such a thoughtful speech which suggests that he is putting the lives of his citizenry ahead of the economy.
Whether he owns those words or not, one thing is certain here: he uttered those words because he believed in them. Now one should be right to assume that the Ghanaian lives our President is holding in high esteem include those of persons with disability. And one should also expect that all lives would be treated equally, however, from where I sit, it doesn't appear so. Persons with disability seem to be the least thought about in the situation we find ourselves.
When the campaign against the virus first started, sign language interpretation to aid the deaf was conspicuously left out of all the television broadcasts of both the President's speeches and other communications meant to educate the public on the deadly virus.
It had to take efforts of some leaders of the disability community to draw the attention of the COVID-19 communication team to incorporate sign language interpretation into their promos, as well as translate them into brail for the blind community. The later is yet to be done. It is almost as if persons with disabilities are always the last to be considered in anything.
One does not need any Degree in economics to tell that the COVID-19 pandemic started effecting our economy long before the President announced the partial lockdown in Accra, Kumasi and Kasoa few days ago. And there is no debate whatsoever over the fact that persons with disability fall within the bracket of the very vulnerable/needy in our society. They continue to suffer discrimination, stigmatization, neglect, illiteracy and other abuses that undermine their fundamental human rights. This inhibits, in no small way, their talents and skills and pushes them to the margins of society, where poverty becomes their lot.
The government could refuse to accept that the state, including successive governments, is partly responsible for the situation described above, but I will be astonished if Government would claim ignorance of the fact that persons with disabilities are the chief victims in this COVID-19 influenced economic hardship. This is because, most of them are unemployed and a greater percentage of the very few who are economically engaged are in the informal sector and, therefore, started taking the knock weeks ago. It was expected that some relief interventions would have been rolled out for them long before now.
Even though it comes as good news, the announcement by the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori Attah, of Government's plan to transfer money to some vulnerable groups in the country, to mitigate the present economic hardship, I fear that as usual, persons with disability are going to be served with "Kanzo" (the useless part or surplus).
However, it is my fervent prayer that the Government will put me to shame by putting the most vulnerable (persons with disability) on top of the priority list, maybe for once. And does so with the same urgency and interest with which some prestigious hospitals are being allocated to VIP victims of the COVID-19 virus which has demonstrated enough all over the world that it is no respecter of position or class.
Benjamin Nii-Lartey Ayiku (BNA)
(Africa Disability Rights Journalist, 2019)