The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or call it the 2030 Agenda, pledging to “leave no one behind,” is an ambitious plan of action of the international community towards a peaceful and prosperous world, where dignity of an individual person and equality among all is applied as the fundamental principle, cutting across the three pillars of the work of the United Nations: Development, Human Rights and Peace and Security. It is critical to ensure, in this regard, the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and create enabling environments by, for and with persons with disabilities.
The SDGs also explicitly include disability and persons with disabilities 11 Times. Disability is referenced in multiple parts of the SDGs, specifically in the parts related to education, growth and employment, inequality, accessibility of human settlements, as well as data collection and the monitoring of the SDGs. Although, the word “disability” is not cited directly in all goals, the goals are indeed relevant to ensure the inclusion and development of persons with disabilities.
The above paragraphs are indication of how relevant issues related to Persons with disability are and why humanity needs to attach importance to them and make the built environment accessible for their use.
At a time when the United Nations is rallying everybody to make the environment accessible to persons with disability, Ghana appears be lagging behind in this regard as policy implementers have failed to put into practice the provisions of the Disability Law, Act 715, (2006).
Section 6 of the Disability Act 715 and Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) require that buildings, roads, indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools buildings, medical facilities and all workplaces, are made accessible to PWDs.
However, a reverse of these legal provisions were what was witnessed when Public Agenda with support from Pensplusbytes, a non- governmental Organization went round some public place in Accra to ascertain the extent to which the provisions of the Act has been adhered to.
The Paper observed that some major public structures, such as the State House, the Parliament House, Ministries buildings particularly the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social protection are not disability-friendly and that Persons with disability would have to go through some difficulty before they can access the main buildings.
Nonetheless, the Accra International Conference Center, the Accra Mall, the Alisa Hotel, Coconut Grove Hotel, the Sunlodge Hotel, Paloma hotel, the Ridge Hospital, the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, Maamobi Polyclinic,Ga West Municipal Assembly have some ramps that enable PWDs with wheel chairs to access these facilities. The washrooms of some of these structures, on the other hand are not entirely accessible to PWDs.
An official from the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection who does not want to be identified told Public Agenda that most of the ministries buildings were constructed during the colonial times, hence, did not take into consideration the needs of persons with disability, adding that “but we always find ways of assisting them to the main building when they come around for services.”
As majority of Ghana’s public buildings are not disability- friendly after 12 years of coming into existence of Act 715, disability right advocates have expressed worry over the relegation to the back burner, issues that bother on PWDs.
In particular, they expressed concerns over perpetual breaches of Act 715 and faulted government of being the number one culprit. They argue that the Disability Act, which was passed to defend the rights of PWDs and improve their living conditions, has seen its provisions being abused consistently by entities.
The President of the Ghana Federation of Disability Organisations (GFD), Mr Yaw Ofori Debra, in an interaction with the media recently said, such abuses have rendered members helpless in the society since repercussion of non-compliance was “negative and extensive.”
This, he said has impeded PWD’s access to economic, education, healthcare and employment opportunities, and taken away their privileges to participate in national decision-making process.
Explaining, Mr Debra said, the GFD, after a decade of coming into being of the Disability Act inspected 29 public buildings including courts, ministries, departments, agencies, schools, hospitals and district assembly offices. The areas audited included the environment, pathways, passage, handrails, toilet facilities, with doors, elevators, and the height of desks of receptionists.
“All the buildings audited were found to be inaccessible to PWDs. The fact remains that the finding is a true national picture of noncompliance with the 10-year moratorium,” Mr Debra said. A visit to mosques, churches, corporate institutions, train stations and lorry parks and ministries, remain closed to PWDs,” he added.
According to him, government ignored the law and defied the repeated warnings of PWDs following the construction of the N1 road without accessibility components which has abandoned them. The road has six foot bridges but no single ramp to enable PWDs cross to attend school, clinic, learn a trade, work or participate in social events.
Mr Debra said it is sad that people with hearing impairment are losing their lives, spend days at hospitals without treatment due to communication barriers and absence of sign language interpreters in the country’s health facilities.
Responding to the existing challenges in the country’s built environment, the National Council on Persons with Disability (NCPD), an establishment under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection has developed Ghana Standard on Accessibility Designs (GSAD) to guide developers, designers and other persons involved in the built environment process to ensure that disability is considered in their plans.
Speaking to Public Agenda ,Mr Kwamena Dadzie-Dennis, Executive Secretary, NCPD, said GSAD, if gazette into law by the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA), would be incorporated into Ghana’s Building Regulations for the approving authorities to make accessibility designs part of the criteria for acceptance of plans for construction in the built environment.
Mr Dadzie-Dennis said GSAD would provide a tool for the measurement or auditing of universal accessibility and increase awareness on accessibility standards, and the need for barrier-free designs in the built environment.
The Standard was developed after extensive consultations with a wide range of stakeholders as well as literature in the field of accessibility and disability.
The Standard, he maintained would to serve as a useful tool for those involved in the design, implementation, and supervision and decision-making on various programmes where accessibility is a component, adding, “it would benefit people with any form of disabilities.”
Mr Abdul Latif Shaibu, a 45- year old physically challenged person based in Alajo, a suburb of Accra stressed the need for government to provide an accessible built environment for PWDs. Mr Latif said government must ensure that persons with disabilities in the country get easy access to public places as it is one sure way of empowering them and safeguarding their rights.
By Mohammed Suleman