A GNA feature by Bertha Badu-Agyei
As the impact of COVID-19 continue to ravage the global economy and lives, Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) have made an appeal to government to as a matter of urgency implement the Disability Bill to give them some lease of life in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to them, implementing the Disability Act, which contains provisions to give them access to public buildings and many others as well as to education and all other forms of services in an appropriate manner fit for their conditions was more relevant now as the COVID-19 pandemic had aggravated their already difficult living conditions.
In separate interviews with the GNA under the “Mobilizing Media to Fighting Covid-19” project being implemented by the Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) in collaboration with the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), some of the PWDs especially those with mobility challenge, said 16 years without implementation of the Act was a human rights violation on the part of government, since it was only through the implementation of the provisions of the Act that they could have space to develop as any other person under the Constitution of Ghana.
In 2006 the Persons with Disability Act was passed by Parliament to usher in a new dawn and among other things the Act provides for rights such as unrestricted access to public places and buildings, free healthcare, employment, education and transportation.
Others among the purpose of the Disability Act is to provide for persons with disability, establish a National Council on Persons with Disability and other related matters, which are not limited to the right to family life and right to participate in social creative or recreational activities, prohibition of differential treatment for residential purposes and the right to the same living conditions as persons without disability.
Barriers and challenges, PWDs encounter in their routine lives are far greater than those encountered by those with no disability issues, the woes of such people deepens in the midst of a pandemic such as COVID-19.
They encounter challenges in movement and accessing services such as healthcare, education, employment and transportation on daily basis, largely because of lack of support systems in place to aid them function independently without necessarily relying on the benevolence of others.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) model, disability is any restriction or lack of ability in the sense of physical deformity to perform an activity within the range considered normal for every human being.
As a routine of every person, there is always need for transportation to move about either to go to work, health facility, school or any place or to run an errand necessary for one’s survival and wellbeing, for the person without any disability this routine is normal and usually have no challenge.
A PWD especially with mobility challenges, who wants to board either taxi or trotro or bus, which are the popular modes of transportation in Ghana, has to rely on the mercy of the driver, mate, or other passengers to help him or her to be able to enter the vehicle, sometimes it’s embarrassing and degrading.
The features of all our commercial vehicles, thus taxi, trotro are not disability friendly, the doors of all commercial vehicles and the arrangements of the seats are such that PWDs using wheelchairs and clutches or other gadgets to aid their movement have a challenge.
In a typical scenario, a PWD who wants to board a vehicle have to be lifted from the wheelchair by the help of the mate and his driver, the wheelchair or clutches had to be folded and placed at the car booth, provided it’s not full, then the PWD has to be placed in an isolated place to avoid shifting.
In the midst of COVID-19, where social distancing and keeping distances away from people are highly adhered to, the person with disability is at a loss as nobody wants to offer them the necessary support for fear of contracting COVID-19.
A 41-year old person with mobility disability who spoke on anonymity told GNA that, life had become unbearable for her in the wake of COVID-19 as people refused to help them not for being wicked, but for fear of contracting the disease and recounted an ugly experience where a mate and driver refused to help her get on a vehicle nor touch her clutches to enable her board the vehicle.
She said for a long time she had to stand at the road side without any car stopping to pick her and when one finally pulled up and she signalled to the mate to come to her aid, he told her in the face that because of COVID-19, he could not help her onto the car or touch her walking aid, so she should manage on her own.
She recalled that at one time she had to visit the hospital for a routine review, since she was a hypertensive patient, she waited for hours before getting a taxi and the taxi driver demanded that she paid double the fare and told her that he was risking to help her get onto the vehicle and that he could contract COVID-19 in the process.
That, she pointed was as a result of no provision made for “people like us in the several measures government has laid down to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. By the nature of our situation moving on our own without people coming close to help us is difficult, sometimes they have to literally lift us unto vehicles,” she lamented.
She was of the view that implementing the Disability Act was long overdue and the impact of COVID-19 on the life of the persons with disability reinforced the need for accessibility to all public buildings including hospitals, schools and even public vehicles. “Government should have as part of the measures take us into accounts and provided special transportation services for us to facilitate our movement because we are not in normal times”.
Mr Yaw Agyekum, a 45-year-old public servant, said in the wake of the COVID-19 restrictions life was unbearable, notably in commuting since transportation became a challenge.
He narrated that the usual help they got from others when boarding a public transport was missing, so they were forced to hire taxis at higher cost to enable them survive, increasing their expenditure.
He noted that on several occasions, he had to pay for double seats on a vehicle especially in taxis since the drivers claimed that because of his wheelchair the vehicle could not accommodate three people at the back seat coupled with the social distancing protocol, adding that we ‘end up paying for more fares due to our disability’.
He said COVID-19 had further deepened their woes in getting access to healthcare and to public institutions, recalling that people refuse to help them on their errands as they used to, due to fear of contracting the COVID-19 and also made a call to government to implement the Disability Act to ensure that in situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, interest of people with disability would be adequately taken care of.
These scenarios represents that of the many PWDs who are suffering in silent as the impact of COVID-19 hits hard on all sectors of national life. Ghana’s Constitution guarantees that every individual is entitled to a dignified life, but that is not the case of the PWDs in our society. At every point, they have to rely on the benevolence and mercy of other people to be able to accomplish a task that requires them to move from one place to another through the means of a vehicle.
Many children with mobility disability have had to abandoned school or not pursue education at all, due to the difficulty in accessing school facilities on daily basis because no provision tailored to their situation is made for them to facilitate their movement and so they end up in adult life with no means of livelihood except to beg for alms on the street for survival.
Ms Afua Kyere, New Juaben South Chairperson of the Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled (GSPD), in an interview disclosed that apart from transportation where people with disability had been hit hard in this COVID era, most of the persons with disability who were petty traders had been thrown out of business due to decongestion exercises to ensure people adhered to the social distancing protocol.
She explained that transportation and access to public services were the key areas where they had been heavily impacted by the COVID-19, since they depended on others to be able to move about and stressed the need for the Disability Act to be implemented where provisions had been made for access to all public buildings and public transportation.
According to her, it was a source of worry that after so many years of the passage of the Disability Act, most public buildings had not made any provision to make accessibility easy in the form of rumps, adding that the few which had the ramps were so steep that any attempt to use a wheelchair would be disastrous to the user.
Using herself as an example, Ms Akyere who is a graduate and a product of St Roses Senior High School, said she had gone through that difficult challenge throughout her education and relied heavily on the support of others and wondered if that could have been possible in an era of a pandemic such as COVID-19.
Monsignor Bobby Benson, a Catholic priest and Founder of the Matthew 25 House, an HIV and AIDS care centre in Koforidua, and an advocate for the rights of persons with disability, said it was a shame that, about 16 years after the passage of the Disability Act, PWDs still lived in conditions that only worsened their plight of not having the physical ability to move about freely like others.
He said in countries where governments and the state, cared about PWDs, there were adequate preparations made for them in public transports including; facilities that allowed them to enter vehicles in their wheelchairs, without any support from others making them look odd and degrading in the process.
Monsignor Benson, called on government to as a matter of fairness, to ensure that all public buses like the Metro buses had facilities to aid the smooth transportation of PWDs, adding that “it is when the state has set this pace that it can demand similar of all private transport companies to import vehicles to become disability friendly”.
In his view, the need to implement the Disability Act have become more critical than ever in this COVID-19 era where people were reluctant to offer help or come closer to people in keeping with the social distancing protocol, adding that “the COVID-19 pandemic is a test case for government to quickly implement the Disability Act without any delay to make life a bit easy for people in that category”.