In the Government’s 2018 economic policy there was a clear intent to ensure its alignment with the SDGs. Out of the 17 SDGs, SDG 11 ( make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable) and SDG 17 (Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development) defines expectations of performance for government as duty bearer to promote the rights of persons with disabilities. Every 3rd December is celebrated as International Day of People With Disabilities. Globally it is estimated that one billion people have a disability, and 80 percent live in developing countries. In developing countries, women comprise three-quarters of people with disabilities.
Women and girls with disabilities are disproportionately represented and are often the most marginalized. On August 21, 2012, Ghana’s ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and thereby committed to respecting the human rights of all its citizens, including those with disabilities. Ghana became the 119th country in the world to ratify the Disability Rights Convention, a landmark international treaty that mandates the protection and promotion of human rights for the more than 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide. More than 5 million people with disabilities live in Ghana, one-fifth of the total. According to the UNICEF Ghana Country Report (2000:18) the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare estimates that the number of persons living with disabilities is 10%.
Persons with disabilities constitute part of the overall talent pool in the country and should also be treated fairly in accessing social, economic and development opportunities. This paper discusses the issues confronting persons with disabilities in Ghana, since they constitute a significant talent pool whose skills and contributions can support the attainment of the government’s 2018 budget and economic policy. Every human being is at risk of one form of disability and although disability can be at birth, one can also become disabled during one’s lifetime. In other words, disability can happen to all of us with or without notice and its time for government, faith based organizations and civil society groups to engage more constructively in understanding and addressing the challenges of persons with disabilities.
Challenges Facing Persons with Disabilities
The writer has had firsthand experience of how the Ebola virus epidemic affected many persons living with disabilities simply because the disease was spread through human contacts and many people who had difficulties in seeing, moving and hearing were disadvantaged severely resulting in inadequate access to services and support. If we fail to adequately promote the rights of persons with disabilities during stable times, then I shudder to think of what will happen during a complex emergency situation.
Culturally, some parents think that having children with disability is a curse or burden on them. This perception can only be countered by extensive social mobilization and community engagement backed with the enforcement of the right social protection laws and policies. Persons with disabilities are also human beings and entitled to the same rights and privileges defined under the 1992 constitution of Ghana.
Changing the negative mindset about persons living with disability must begin at home and reinforced in our educational institutions. In Ghana, some of the few specialist schools often experience inadequate teaching and learning materials and investment in promoting the professional development of the few specialist teachers is often not prioritized. Class sizes at most of these schools also constitute major challenges due to inadequate investment in these institutions.
The Employment Relations Context
Under Part V of the Ghana Labour Act 2003, clear provisions are made for persons with disability. The provisions provide for the registration of persons with disability and outlines some incentives that both the disabled person and the employer may enjoy. Section 46 subsections 1-3 clearly states that special incentives shall be provided to an employer who employs a disabled person, as well as a disabled employee. However the law is silent on the exact incentives that may be enjoyed and although the clause gives the authority to grant such incentives to the Minister, the type of incentives is not stated and this may hinder compliance if it is not clearly defined.
This paper also believes that there is need for an improvement of the law to prescribe a clear quota for the employment of qualified disabled persons by employers. Section 49 of the act, frowns upon discrimination and states that person with disability entering the public service shall be appointed on the same terms as persons without disability irrespective of whether they are allowed to work fewer hours; and shall be classified in accordance with their previous period of qualifying service for the purposes of promotion and other public service awards. The clause is however loudly silent on what should pertain at the private sector level.
Section 53 provides clear guidance on how to manage capacity building of persons with disability and defines that where such learning and development is done in order for the disabled staff to overcome an aspect of his/her disability to cope with the task demands, the employer shall bear the cost. This is very positive but we need to monitor its enforcement. Nothing stops employers across the public and private sector from enforcing these provisions. In Ghana, many office buildings including state agencies with responsibility for managing disability are not disability friendly. We believe that there is the need for rigour in monitoring and reporting on the enforcement of the law an improvement of the law.
A Paradigm Shift
We need a new paradigm shift to tackle the marginalization of persons with disabilities and reduce the manifest risks of their exclusion from contributing towards Ghana’s development agenda. In Ghana, there are numerous examples of disabled persons who have achieved tremendous strides in their fields of endeavours. However, there are also many others, who have been discriminated against either overtly or covertly from having access to opportunities because they are disabled. I will like to suggest 3 ideas to facilitate the paradigm shift.
Firstly, leadership intentionality on the part of duty bearers especially state actors to mobilize resources to invest in programs to mainstream issues affecting persons with disabilities into all sectors of the economy. How much is the 2018 budget dedicated to supporting persons with disabilities to acquire vocational skills? What percentage of the 2018 budget has been allocated for disability-related initiatives?
Secondly, integrating the study of disability into our educational curriculum across the 3 layers ie primary, secondary and tertiary levels. This will help create sustainable sensitization and awareness of the rights of persons with disabilities and help to create a new positive culture of disability.
Thirdly sustained social mobilization and community engagement that leverages the network of influence of faith-based organizations to facilitate understanding, awareness, sensitization and active engagement at the social and religious level to address some of the root causes of entrenched negative perceptions about persons with disability which often have gender dimensions.
The President Nana Akuffo-Addo during his inauguration speech on the 7th of January 2017, challenged Ghanaians not to be spectators but active citizens during his era of governance. Persons with disabilities have the same rights which must be respected and enforced to ensure their active citizenship. In conclusion, I will like to throw a challenge to the organizers of the Ghana Club 100 awards to establish an award for the most disability-friendly employer for 2018!