Working with Persons with Intellectual & Developmental Disability (PWIDD), that is persons with cerebral palsy, autism and down syndrome for the past eight years, it is disheartening that we have a well-crafted Act that provides for Persons with Disability (PWD) yet in practice there seem to be no political and financial commitment in actualizing the contents of the Act.
I intend to look at salient provisions in Act 715 that relate to rights, employment, education, healthcare and transportation of persons with disability and where possible relate it to the national budget considerations given to actualize the contents of the Act, to show that there is no commitment in supporting persons with any form of disability.
RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITY
PWDs have the same Constitutional rights as any other Ghanaian and specifically under the Act 715, a person with disability, which includes Persons with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities (PWIDD), has the right to live with the family. According to Act 715, adjudicating bodies are to provide appropriate facilities for PWDs to enable them participate effectively in the proceedings. Also necessary facilities must be put in place for PWDs to access public services and public places.
Owners of existing buildings to which the public has access were given a transitional period of ten years from the commencement of the Act in 2006 to put facilities in place to be accessible and available to PWDs.
The above presupposes that the family must be supported to be able to take care of the PWD and in delivering public services, the needs of PWDs must be considered. From 2017, all public facilities must be able to accommodate PWDs. The reality today is far from the provisions of the Act. It takes commitment and political will to make sure PWDs enjoy these rights.
EMPLOYMENT OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITY
Under Act 715, the Government is to grant special incentives to persons with disability engaged in business and also to business organizations that employ persons with disability. The government is to give PWDs appropriate training, provide them with necessary working tools and materials, and person to access loan capital to start a business should they be unemployed and job searching for more than two years.
Are you surprised? Yes, it is in Act 715. Looking through the Appropriation Act 202, I do not see any budget line that is to take care of this aspect of the Act. How to PWDs even know the government has such commitments towards them to avail themselves of it?
EDUCATION OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITY
Under Act 715, all children with disability and of school going age must be enrolled in a school. A parent, guardian or custodian who does not enroll the child commits an offence which is punishable by term of imprisonment not exceeding fourteen days. PWDs are not to be refused admission into schools or other institutions of learning until assessed by the Ministries of Health and Social Welfare as not capable of attending and in any case, each region is to have a designated school with necessary facilities and equipment that will enable persons with disability to fully benefit from the school or institution.
Where PWDs cannot enroll in the normal mainstream formal schools due to their disability, the government is to establish special schools for them. Also, where a person with disability has completed basic education but is unable to pursue further formal education, the government is to provide the person with appropriate training.
The government is to designate in each region a public technical, vocational and teacher training institutions to include in their curricula, special education on sign language, as well as braille writing and reading.
Very laudable legal commitment but where is the political and financial commitment towards implementation. We have had this Act since 2006 and what has been its impact do far? It is the mandate of the National Council on PWDs to monitor and evaluate disability policies and programmes and it is about time the Council lobbied for funding to get this done.
A person with disability can import a vehicle adapted or modified for use by persons with disability but a person without disability is not allowed to import a vehicle adapted or modified for use by persons with disability except with the express approval of the Minister. This means a “home used” car dealer on a business trip cannot import such vehicles to be sold in the country like they do with ordinary conventional vehicles. This in my opinion is not helpful and needs to be reviewed since PWDs should be able to walk into a “home used” car dealership to buy an already imported vehicle.
District Assemblies are to demarcate special parking place reserved for the exclusive use of PWDs. In evaluating the work of District Assemblies, we must consider the impact made on PWDs with respect to the implementation of Act 715.
I was pleasantly surprised to see in the Act that a person responsible for the booking of passengers on a commercial bus should reserve at least two seats for the persons with disability and until the bus is full without the reserved seats having been occupied, then the driver or the person responsible for putting passengers on the bus may, fill the reserved seats with other passengers. Yes, it is a legal requirement and you know what? Once contravened, it is even punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding three months or to a fine or both. “Waaaaloook” I am sure politicians have proudly showcased this in international conferences on how we are taking care of PWDs in Ghana. Is even the Inter-City STC Coaches Ltd which is owned by government doing this? I hope so. I however do remember in the 1970s and 1980s STC used to reserve first two seats and sold them at the last minute but mostly for “significant others” in society so it can be done.
HEALTH-CARE AND FACILITIES
The government is to provide for free general and specialist medical care, rehabilitative operation treatment and appropriate assistive devices for persons with total disability. The Act does not define “total disability” and this makes it ambiguous as to who qualifies. The government is also to establish and operate health assessment and resource centres in each district and provide early diagnostic medical attention to mothers and infants to determine the existence or onset of disability.
Do we have the health assessment and resource centres in each district? Do the PWDs on the streets with medical conditions and begging for alms know they should have such facilities? Do mothers know they can go to such facilities, if they exist, for assessment of their children if they suspect anything unusual with the behavior of the children at an early age? Is this why they resort to spiritual consultations to seek help?
NATIONAL BUDGET CONSIDERATION
I tried to look through the Appropriation Act 2021 with a total budget of GHS129,032m to determine our financial commitment to support the legal commitment towards PWDs and it was not encouraging. Except for a budget line under “Inclusive and Special Education” of GHS5.35m out of GHS2,075m for education, there was nothing specially ring fenced for our PWDs in any of the Ministries. The percentage is negligible and even the GHS5.35m was for compensation of employees which means consumption by those dealing with the education of PWDs and nothing developmental.
PWDs are under Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection with a total budget of GHS330.3m How much of this has been earmarked for PWDs and for what? We need to know.
We should be able to integrate PWDs in every aspect of our national lives and give them special attention since legally we have decided to have a special Act for them. In future budget preparation various Ministries and Institutions such as National Commission for Civic Education, Office of the AG & Ministry of Justice, Judiciary & Judicial Service, Legal Aid Commission, GetFund, etc must have budget lines to be used specifically without discretion for PWDs.
National programmes such as Lifeline Consumers of Electricity & Water, COVID-19 Alleviation Programme, Child Rights, Protection & Development must going forward earmark an amount for PWDs.
The total of all the sub budget lines should then be the national budget for PWDs for which the National Council on Persons with Disability must be able to oversee and monitor the utilization and impact.
Wait till you have a relative or child with some disability, especially intellectual and developmental disability and you will appreciate the rights and special privileges Act 715 gives to PWDs and the need for implementation. Many marriages have broken down because of the financial burden mostly with the men having deserted the mothers and children leaving the women as single parents.
In dealing with PWIDDs for example, it is not only about the person with the disability but supporting the family, mostly women and community as a whole and this must be evident in national support programmes.
There is the need for the NGOs operating with PWDs in collaboration with the National Council on PWDs to undertake an independent impact assessment of the provisions of Act 715 and publish same to bring the needed awareness of the plight of PWDs, else we will continue to have a laudable Act for people with disability for politicians to showcase to international bodies and in conferences but with no commitment to make it work. The legal framework alone is not enough.
The author holds an LLB and is a National Council Member of Inclusion Ghana, a network organisation working to reduce stigmatization and ensure full inclusion of all persons with intellectual disability and their families by advocating for their rights and needs. Contact: [email protected]