A GNA Feature by Bertha Badu-Agyei
Most Government Institutions, Departments and Agencies in Koforidua are not accessible to Persons with Disability (PWDs)
This is because they are located on storey buildings without ramps or elevators to provide access to PWDs using wheelchairs or other aids.
A survey conducted by the Ghana News Agency under the “Mobilising Media to Fight COVID-19,” project being implemented by the Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) in collaboration with the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), noted that institutions such as the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and the Department of Social Welfare were all located on storey buildings without ramps to give access to PWDs.
Others were; the New Juaben South Office of the Electoral Commission (EC), the Attorney General’s Department and some State Media organisations including; the Graphic Communications Group, the Ghanaian Times and the Ghana News Agency, all on storey buildings without PWDs access.
The survey also revealed that where a storey building had provided ramp, it only gave access to the first floor of the building and so if a PWD, particularly those with mobility disability, want to transact business at the other floors, they have to rely on the benevolence of others to get there or draw the attention of the officer in charge to come down.
What this means is that PWDs could not access the services of the CHRAJ for instance, which was mandated by the law to deal with human rights issues including; the non-maintenance of children, domestic abuse and violence was inhuman treatments and administrative abuses at workplaces.
Even though all these state institutions were occupying rented office spaces built many years ago, their failure to provide access to these category of citizens, contravenes the provision of the Disability Act which was passed in 2006 and given 10 years moratorium for the implementation to enable all institutions to adjust to the set demands of the Act to suit the needs of PWDs.
Article Nine (9) of the UN Conventions on the Right of PWDs and the Disability Act 2006, states clearly that the “owner and occupier of a place to which the public has access shall provide appropriate facilities that make the place accessible and available for use by PWDs” while section seven (7) of the Disability Act 2006 says “a person or institution that provides service to the public shall put in place the necessary facilities that make the service available and accessible to PWDs”.
In 2006, the Ghana Disability Act was passed by Parliament to usher in a new dawn and among other things, provide for rights such as unrestricted access to public places and buildings, healthcare, employment, education and transportation and make provision for the establishment of a National Council on Persons with Disability to set the tone for improving the living conditions of PWDs.
Mr Samuel Agyekum, the Eastern Regional Coordinator of the Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled (GSPD), in an interview with GNA, said 16 years without implementation of the Disability Act was a human right violation on the part of government and ‘a shame that in spite of the existence of the Disability Act, which enjoins public institutions to provide access to PWDs, the challenge still remains’.
He said: “With regards to the GNA survey, all the public institutions listed such as CHRAJ, NCCE and the Department of Social Welfare and EC are institutions whose services are needed by both the abled and disabled persons so why are we not giving due consideration especially when PWDs stand the risk of abuse higher than a person without disability”.
On several occasions, he said some of their members had complained about the difficulty in accessing the services of these institutions, adding: “anytime a person with disability want to access any of these institutions they have to stay at the ground floor and beg others to inform the officers or place a call to draw their attention”.
That, he described as an invasion of the privacy of persons with disability since they had to tell their stories to others to convey their messages to the officer in charge in their quest to access the services of such institutions and “depending on the passion of the officer in charge, sometimes they wait for a long time without being given any due attention”.
He said apart from ramps to facilitate the movement of PWDs using wheelchairs, it is difficult for those using clutches and calipers or other walking aids to climb up to offices on storey buildings to transact business, adding that sometimes they needed to do such transactions personally to ensure privacy.
Mr Agyekum said PWDs continue to suffer discrimination and stigma because they had to rely on others to do something for them.
“Often when we want people to help us, they think we are coming to ask for money so they ignore us and with COVID-19, it has become extremely difficult for us to do so many things and that for me is a failure on the part of the state to protect our rights,” he added.
Apart from this situation denying PWDs access to some services, it is also a huge barrier to them when it comes to employment as many employees whose offices are located on storey buildings refused to employ such persons even with the requisite qualifications.
He observed that because the state had failed to implement the provisions of the Act to ensure that PWDs had access to all buildings whether public or private, new infrastructure built after the passage of the Disability Act unfortunately, did not factor in any provisions for the benefit of people with disability and described as a sad situation.
The GSPD Chairperson said until the Act was implemented, PWDs would continue to be marginalised and be discriminated since they could not function independently and freely to contribute to national development despite their God-given talents and abilities and called on government to implement the Act.
Another observation is tiling of facilities that move persons with mobility challenge difficult as the tiles are slippery posing danger to those using wheelchairs, clutches and calipers and even the blind.
Mr Alexander Tetteh, the Executive President, Centre for Employment of Persons With Disability last week on a Ghana Television programme, openly accused the Ghana Broadcasting Cooperation (GBC) for not making provision for People With Disability to have access to their studio which was upstairs.
He said: “GBC is a national television to give focus to the people and it’s an indictment that we cannot come here as PWDs to tell our stories”.
He disclosed that as a person with mobility challenge, it was difficult for him to climb the staircase before getting to the GBC studio for a programme which he was a guest, adding: “If the private television stations would not make provisions for us, same should not be said about GBC, the public broadcaster”.
Meanwhile, some of the officials of the above institutions told GNA on anonymity that, they were tenants in the facilities which had been built long ago and therefore had no provisions for PWDs, while others said they were renting the facilities and therefore, had no choice to do any alterations unless the law was enforced to compel institutions to make those provisions.
The Constitution of Ghana guarantees the integrity of all citizens irrespective of their status and creed, therefore to be denied access to public service and into public spaces through systemic failure is a human right abuse which must be looked at in our quest as nation to ensure that everyone has a source of livelihood.
It is imperative to remove all barriers from the way of this category of people so they can contribute their quota to national development.