Gertrude Newman, Ghana Federation of the Disabled, Ghana
The issue of promotion of a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities is currently recognized as a key prerequisite for the early and full integration of persons with disabilities in the community. However, to date, little concrete action has been implemented in Ghana towards this promotion. This paper highlights the significance of a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities and discusses the prospects and challenges posed to the Ghana Federation of the Disabled (FODA) with respect to campaigns to promote access legislation in Ghana.
The Ghana Federation of the Disabled (FODA) was established in 1987 with the founding members as: the Ghana Association of the Blind, Ghana National Association of the Deaf, and the Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled. One of the major objectives of the Federation is to provide a common platform and pressure group to promote the right of persons with disabilities to participate fully, and on equal terms in community activities. The Federation of the Disabled was formally established at a Leadership Development Seminar organized jointly by the three founding associations, and sponsored by the Disabled Peoples' International (DPI). The key areas covered by the Seminar included:
The seminar brought together professional and voluntary personnel from governmental and non-governmental organizations to meet together with organizations of persons with disabilities to discuss various issues related to the welfare of disabled persons in Ghana. The seminar kindled the awareness of the organizations of persons with disabilities of the fact that the attainment of full participation and equality in the community can only be possible if a united front is built to develop cooperation links with various governmental and non-governmental organizations whose stipulated functions are related to the welfare of persons with disabilities.
So far, this cooperation has focused on promoting the right of persons with disabilities to equal opportunities in education and employment. This paper highlights the significance of a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities, and discusses the prospects and challenges posed to FODA with respect to campaigns to promote access legislation in Ghana.
The issue of a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities as significant prerequisite for enhancing the right of the disabled in the community has been, to some extent, recognized by the Department of Social Welfare and some organizations of persons with disabilities. But to date, the emphasis has been to ensure that barrier-free environment exists at the special institutions of training and employment of persons with disabilities.
For example, the Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled set up in 1984 a Training Center for the Disabled near Kumasi (at Jachie) where accessibility to the buildings and all other facilities by persons with disabilities was incorporated in the design. This center now serves as an excellent model of a barrier-free school in Ghana. The Society formed a Sub-Committee which collaborated at various levels with the architects, quantity surveyors as well as with the construction firm at pre-construction and site meetings to ensure that the barrier-free requirements of the Center were adhered to. The Department of Social Welfare has also ensured that its Rehabilitation Centers for the Disabled are readily accessible to various categories of disabled persons. However, these attempts seem to suggest that only the special institutions for persons with disabilities need to be barrier-free. This line of thinking has been widely acceptable in the context of the traditional rehabilitation strategy where the training and employment of persons with disabilities is undertaken in segregated institutions. This rehabilitation strategy seems to suggest that persons with disabilities need not join his or her non-disabled colleagues in the community for education, employment, recreation and other social activities. This factor has been the major socio-cultural constraint for the promotion of access legislation in Ghana.
The Ghana Federation of the Disabled (FODA) recognizes that full participation and equality of disabled persons in the community can only be realistic and sustainable if disabled people are encouraged to integrate early into the community in all socio-economic activities: education, employment, commerce, recreation, community development programs and all other social activities.
In this direction, the Federation had embraced the concept of Community-Based Rehabilitation, where a wide range of options are made accessible to persons with disabilities in the community where he or she lives, to enable him or her to develop a way of living that allows his or her full participation in all aspects of life in that community. The range of options include restorative, medical, educational, vocational, placement, as well as social services. It is obvious that a key prerequisite for the success of a Community-Based Rehabilitation is a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities to enhance unhindered interaction and use of facilities and services in the community. The Federation has identified the key players in the rehabilitation of disabled people as:
Currently, the concept of rehabilitation shared by these key players is still based in the strategy of segregated training and employment of persons with disabilities, which does not fully recognize the significance of the promotion of a barrier-free environment in the community for persons-with disabilities. There is therefore the need to re-orientate these key players to change their concept of rehabilitation to focus on early integration of disabled people in all aspects of community life, which shall necessarily be enhanced by the promotion of a barrier-free environment.
The Federation has embarked on a drive to develop and strengthen cooperation links with governmental and non-governmental organizations who are related to the issue of the welfare of persons with disabilities.
One of the major planned strategies in this endeavor is by the organization of joint seminars and workshops between the Federation and these organizations to discuss and develop collaborative action plans for the Community-Based Rehabilitation Program in Ghana, which will include the promotion of access design and legislation.
In this direction, the Federation is organizing a workshop in April 1992 on Community-Based Rehabilitation in Ghana in collaboration with related governmental and non-governmental organizations. The workshop, which will be financially supported by the Norwegian Association of the Disabled, shall have the following objectives:
In this workshop, it is expected that the promotion of access design and legislation in Ghana shall be identified as one of the key components and requirements of the Community-Based Rehabilitation Program. However, the Federation recognizes the reality that at a workshop with the wide scope of planning on overall Community-Based Rehabilitation Program for Ghana, only a preliminary coverage of the rather comprehensive strategies for the promotion of access design and legislation can be attained. It shall therefore be necessary to organize a follow-up workshop focusing mainly on the strategies toward the promotion of access design and legislation, as well as the enforcement and monitoring of this legislation. The Federation intends to work towards the organization of this follow-up workshop. As a prelude to this planned workshop, the key professionals and agencies have already been identified who shall play vital roles in this promotion and subsequent activities.
It is imperative for the FODA to initiate the development and strengthening of cooperation links with these identified agencies and to institute strategies to lobby the political bodies such as the District Assemblies on the issue. With respect to the coordination of the inter-disciplinary roles and activities involved in the effort, the Federation recommends the formation of a statutory body by the Government of Ghana to be known as the Ghana National Commission on Disabled Persons to undertake this significant role. The Federation shall work in close cooperation with this proposed commission on all issues related to the welfare of persons with disabilities.
The issue of promoting and enforcing a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities should be a significant component of any meaningful effort to encourage the early and full integration of persons with disabilities in all aspects of community activities. The actions involved in the promotion, promulgation, enforcement and monitoring of access legislation require a carefully planned and coordinated inter-disciplinary effort involving several governmental and non-governmental organizations. There exist great prospects to mobilize these organizations to play their respective roles in this important endeavor. The Ghana Federation of the Disabled faces the immense challenge of initiating the inter-disciplinary effort by sensitizing the awareness of these organizations of their roles and to develop collaborative strategies with them to progressively ensure free accessibility for persons with disabilities in the community. The Federation accepts to take up this challenge to enhance the right of persons with disabilities to full participation and equality in his or her community in Ghana.