Opportunities and constraints for access legislation in Ghana

This paper by E. Ben Hagan and H. N. A. Wellington of the Building & Road Research Institute, Dept. of Architecture, University of Science & Technology, Kumasi, Ghana, analyses existing socio-cultural and institutional arrangements in Ghana in order to provide a basis for proposing a strategy to achieve access legislation within the prevailing development context. Internet publication URL: www.independentliving.org/cib/cibharare7.html

Report of the CIB Expert Seminar on
Building Non-Handicapping Environments, Harare 1992


Opportunities and constraints for access legislation in Ghana - a case study of utilizing existing institutional framework to promote access legislation

E. Ben Hagan and H. N. A. Wellington, Building & Road Research Institute; Dept. of Architecture, University of Science & Technology, Kumasi, Ghana


The promotion of legislation of accessibility for communities (macro-accessibility) in developing countries such as Ghana, is seriously constrained by a number of negative socio-cultural and institutional factors, identified with both private and public organizations as well as with disabled persons. This situation may tend to block any meaningful public awareness campaign which can be harnessed and transferred eventually into actual access legislation. Notwithstanding this scenario, owing to the increasing awareness of governments of the need to have regulations to guard the development of the built environment, it has been identified that there exist in Ghana a number of institutional arrangements which can be effectively utilized to pursue accessibility legislation.

This paper analyses existing socio-cultural and institutional arrangements to provide a basis to propose a strategy to achieve access legislation within the prevailing development context. The paper ends by advocating for a four-pronged strategy on three levels, namely: i) the national politico-administrative structure; ii) organizational structures of associations of disabled persons and other relevant non-governmental bodies; and iii) professional bodies associated with the development of the built environment, effects a) politico-legal actions; b) bureau-technocratic actions; c) socio-political actions and d) socio-cultural actions for access legislation.


For several years now, dating as far back as to the colonial period in some cases, there have existed in Ghana, a number of schools for the blind, deaf, and mentally retarded, as well as vocational training centers for the physically disabled. Coupled with the existence of these facilities, the implementation of a number of special programs and projects for the promotion of the welfare and interests of disabled persons has been carried out by both governmental and non-governmental organizations in different parts of the country. Furthermore, in recent times the activities of some organizations of disabled people, such as the Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled, have contributed immensely to address the needs of those with disabilities in the Ghanaian society. All these activities collectively underscore the existing positive contextual framework for addressing, with an increasing intensity, the issues related to the improvement of the quality of life of disabled persons in Ghana.

In spite of this positive scenario, it is observable that promotional work geared to the legislation of accessibility for the disabled persons in the country can be constrained and seriously hampered by a number of institutional bottlenecks. These are compounded by negative attitudinal tendencies identifiable with both private and public bodies which operate in and relate to the sector which deals with the development planning of physical facilities and the built environment at large. This situation is considered to be inimical to any meaningful public awareness campaign which can be harnessed and transferred eventually into actual accessibility legislation.

Bearing in mind the history of the community effort to improve the living circumstances of persons with disabilities in the society, together with the socio-economic and cultural context within which such public initiatives have been carried out to date, this paper addresses the constraints and opportunities which exist in Ghana in the development of pragmatic strategy to promote access legislation.

Socio-cultural constraints

The key socio-cultural factors that pose constraints to the promotion of access legislation result from the current concept of rehabilitation of disabled persons, as practised in most developing countries such as Ghana. This concept of rehabilitation is characterized by the education and training of disabled people in special segregated institutions followed in succession by the institutionalized employment of people with disabilities in special sheltered workshops. Invariably, the current training widely available to the majority of disabled people is geared towards preparing them as candidates to join disabled colleagues in the sheltered workshops, or at best to become self-employed in trades such as basket making and shoe repairs. This concept of rehabilitation presupposes that the disabled person need not join his or her non-disabled counterparts in education and employment as well as in recreation and other social activities. This line of thinking tends to make irrelevant any concern directed towards ensuring that public buildings, housing and street environments are made accessible to disabled persons.

The main actors involved in rehabilitation of disabled people are identified as:
  • the community in which disabled people live;
  • the government and governmental agencies;
  • non-governmental organizations;
  • disabled persons.

In most developing countries, the demonstrated concern of these key actors towards disabled people is still rooted in the common notion that the disabled person is and should remain a passive recipient of services and charity from the rest of the community in segregated institutions.

In several situations, the attitudes of the disabled persons tend to suggest that they accept and support this negative notion. Access campaigns to sensitize public awareness of the impact of the built environment on disabled persons, as well as other activities leading to accessibility legislation should necessarily involve the enthusiastic participation of each of the identified key actors. However, this enthusiastic participation cannot be assured whilst these actors keep to their current concept of rehabilitation of disabled people. The promotion of accessibility legislation can only take off if these key actors are progressively re-orientated to accept to modify their rehabilitation strategy to embrace the reality that the achievement of equal opportunities for people with disabilities can only be sustainable if positive actions are taken to enhance the early integration of the disabled person in all sectors of main-stream, community activities. Such re-orientation could then make it apparent that a major prerequisite of this early integration is a barrier-free environment for disabled people to facilitate his or her unhindered movement and use of physical and social facilities in meaningful participation of community life. The new strategy of community-based rehabilitation to some extent shares this modified concept, but programs on this strategy are yet to be initiated in most developing countries.

Institutional constraints

Access legislation, as understood, is a means by which standards and regulations to improve access for persons with disabilities are brought up, enacted and enforced to ensure that buildings both private and public, streets and roads, sea and air transport are made barrier-free architecturally, and in all other ways for the comfort, convenience and safety of the disabled user-group, as well as any other members of the community (macro-accessibility). The enactment and enforcement of access legislation is without doubt, to be achieved in the context of the development circumstances of a country and its corresponding institutional framework.

In Ghana, the welfare and interest of the disabled population are administratively considered within the schedule of responsibilities of the Ministry of Social Welfare and Mobilization. Within this institutional framework, the vocational, educational, and health needs as well as the rights of persons with disabilities are addressed with the assistance of the related sector ministries and the various non-governmental organizations such as churches and associations of and for disabled persons. The performance of the Ministry of Social Welfare and Mobilization, together with the other bodies regarding the general welfare of disabled people, has been creditable as the evidence shows in the increasing provisions being made to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities both in the rural and urban communities.

Notwithstanding the above observation, the quality of the physical facilities which disabled persons have to use to fulfil their existential needs have not been the direct concern of, and have neither formed part of the key issues addressed by the Ministry of Social Welfare and Mobilization. The planning for, and development of, public and residential physical facilities have fallen generally within the ambit of the Town and Country Planning Department (Ministry of Local Government), the Ministry of Works and Housing and the various Metropolitan & District Assemblies. These bodies, which, by virtue of their administrative responsibilities, are directly charged with ensuring standards in the quality of the Ghanaian public built environment, have not in the past confronted the issue of accessibility, due to lack of governmental policy objectives. The usual references, invariably made to the development of facilities such as training centers for persons with disabilities in the various budget statements of governments or assemblies, have been devoid of any extensive or programmed qualitative considerations. Consequently, in general the pursuit of standards in the development of facilities has not been of any prime consideration. The attitude has been that "provided there is a roof over peoples' heads, anything goes".

As a result of this scenario, existing legislative provisions which should guide in the planning and development of physical environmental facilities have not, until recently, been seriously adhered to and applied in the work of both public and private developers. Furthermore, since many of these legislative provisions were brought up and enacted when the early and full integration of the disabled persons into the Ghanaian society was not considered yet as necessary, the standards and regulations thereby are of no consequence to the accessibility factor in the development of physical facilities. Further, it has been noticed that even though the recently drafted and approved (not yet promulgated) Human Settlement (Planning and Development) Law makes extensive provisions for improved environmental development, it does not adequately address the accessibility factor in the built environment at the local level. (Ref. Sections 3 Part 1 and 19 (i) of Part iv of the Human Settlement Law).

The political/administrative weakness in the institutional arrangements for the planning and development of the physical environment with respect to accessibility are compounded by the dearth of technical expertise in the agencies concerned. The situation is further worsened by the absence of any current policy guidelines for the training of accessibility-oriented professionals in the area of architecture and urban design, as well as urban traffic and highway engineering.

In the face of these constraints, promotional work for accessibility legislation can be rendered uneventful, owing to difficulties which can be created by technical/administrative factors as well as lack of commitment on the sides of technocrats and bureaucrats who have to enforce and monitor the legislation.

Utilization of institutional arrangements to pursue access legislation

In spite of the institutional constraints and possible difficulties which can frustrate the process of accessibility legislation, there exist in Ghana a number of institutional arrangements which can be positively harnessed for an active pursuit of access legislation.

The current political climate in Ghana, which has brought into sharp focus the need for any target group affected by the development process to be actively involved in the related decision making and implementation processes, will facilitate any attempt to legislate any provisions brought up to promote and serve the interest of a vulnerable group, such as persons with disabilities in the Ghanaian Society. The achievement of access legislation, if taken up strategically, is a goal which falls within the Government's conception of meeting the needs of marginalized groupings.

Within this favorable socio-political atmosphere, a number of legislative instruments can be identified which can help promote access legislation. The bedrock of these instruments is the PNDC Law 207 enacted to decentralize Local Government, thus creating the District Assemblies, which at the local level, whether in the rural or urban environment, grant communities the right to deliberate, legislate, implement and fund development projects which directly affect them. By this instrument, access legislation when enacted can be effectively enforced and monitored as the affected disabled population will thereby have closer association with their local councillors.

Consequent to the promulgation of the PNDC Law 207 is the establishment of the National Development Planning Commission which is based on the Human Settlements (General Planning and Development) Law. The provisions made by this law although limited in scope, offer access legislation a framework to evolve and proceed into an effective instrument to guarantee a meaningful development of barrier-free environment in all areas of the Ghanaian rural and urban communities. (Ref. Section 37(i) a, b, of the Human Settlement Law).

To buttress these possibilities that the Human Settlement Law provides for the promotion of access legislation, there exist additional arrangements which directly affect the development of barrier-free environment as contained in the revised Ghana Building Regulations.

The various provisions made, amongst others in Sections 1.11, 2, 2.7, 2.77, 2.78, 18 and 19 cover a number of essential aspects affecting the use of public buildings and residential units by disabled persons. However, although the provisions cover issues such as site accessibility, special requirements for building approaches, hallways, staircases, sanitary facilities and emergency provisions they are devoid of considerations for accessibility for disabled persons. Campaigns for revisions in these provisions can be utilized to promote legislation by means of laid down procedures under the auspices of governmental and non-governmental organizations who are oriented towards the needs and interests of persons with disabilities. Such interventions can build up public awareness for the creation of barrier-free environment and thus promote and accelerate the process of access legislation.

Strategies for access legislation

Access Legislation in Ghana will no doubt contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of disabled persons as well as children and senior citizens, who will benefit from the safety, convenience and comfort which barrier-free design measures can introduce into the built environment (macro-accessibility). The fact that access legislation is not necessarily sectional but affects more or less the whole society, broadens the political basis for pursuing the institutionalization of quality environment regarding accessibility. From this perspective, this paper considers a four-pronged strategy which will facilitate the process of legislating for accessibility in Ghana.

The Four-pronged strategy operates on three levels:
Level 1:   embraces actions pursued within the national political/ administrative structure;
Level 2:   embraces actions pursued within the organizational set-up of the relevant associations of persons with disabilities and other related bodies;
Level 3:   embraces actions pursued within the professional institutions concerned with the planning and development of the built-environment.

Actions within the political/administrative structure

At Level 1, the two major actions which will be effected are: 1) Politico-legal actions, and 2) Bureau-technocratic actions.

1.   Politico-legal actions

Politico-Legal Actions should be set in motion by the Ghana Federation of the Disabled with the assistance of Disabled Peoples' International, Rehabilitation International, United Nations Development Program, and the International Council for Building Research Studies and Documentation (CIB) through a series of consultations culminating in a government-sponsored National Seminar and Workshop which should result in a recommendation for the setting up of a National Commission on Disabled Persons. With the establishment of the National Commission on Disabled Persons should come the enactment of the Disabled Welfare Law to include legislative instrument on accessibility.

In order to promote the development of affordable barrier-free residential environments amongst real estate developers, the proposed Commission on Disabled Persons should assign a task force with the responsibility to draft special tax rebate provisions for enactment to encourage real-estate developers to meet a target of 4 per cent affordable barrier-free housing environments in their estate development programs.

2.   Bureau-technocratic actions

Pursuant to the enactment of the Disabled Welfare Law the Human Settlement (Planning and General Development) Law and the Building Regulations should be detailed to address specific provisions for accessibility under the auspices of the National Commission for Disabled Persons.

Coupled with the detailing of the legal provisions undertaken by a Technical Committee set up by the Commission, ministerial Conferences should be organized by the Commission both at the national and district levels to define and establish clear functions of governmental agencies to play the regulatory roles in enforcing accessibility legislative instruments.

As part of the assignment of the proposed Technical Committee, preparation and production of Accessibility Legislative Manuals (ALM) should be completed for the public and other non-governmental organizations for comments and approval. With the adoption of the Accessibility Legislative Manuals for use, a training program should be organized by the Commission for national and district officers who will enforce the access legislation.

Actions within related organizations

At level 2, a package of socio-political actions will be effected within the circles of the associations concerned with the welfare of the disabled persons.

These socio-political actions should be spearheaded by a Technical Committee equipped with special training to conscientize and mobilize both disabled persons and public-spirited individuals. By a systematic program of actions, people will be organized into pressure groups to actively participate in community/political activities related to the District and Metropolitan Assemblies, thereby causing the concerns of the Commission to be fully put across the political agenda of both the assemblies and the geopolitical groupings. Through the auspices of the Commission, this Technical Committee should seek the cooperation of related interest groups such as the Help-Age Ghana, Ghana National Commission on Children, 31st December Women's Movement, National Council on Women and Development, Ghana Journalists Association with the Ghana Federation of the Disabled to lobby political bodies to promote access and other related legislations in the interest of persons with disabilities.

The Committee should further ensure continuous public education in the mass-media on accessibility issues.

Actions within related professional institutions

At Level 3 a series of socio-cultural actions should be jointly effected by the Commission and the Technical Committee with the collaboration of Ghanaian professional bodies such as the Ghana Institute of Architects (GIA), Ghana Institute of Planners (GIP) Ghana Institution of Engineers (GIE) and the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA). The University of Science and Technology should also be involved in such actions.

Under the auspices of these bodies, the Commission with the assistance of donor agencies should sponsor regular design competitions amongst students and professional practitioners to promote quality barrier-free designs in architectural, urban design and traffic/highway engineering schemes.

Furthermore, citations should be instituted for issue on biennial basis to developers and architects who have been associated with buildings and artefacts which have shown a great deal of consciousness of barrier-free environment. In the same vein, prizes should be given to individual citizens who promote quality accessibility in the Ghanaian urban and rural communities by their active political community actions and pronouncements.


In Ghana and in many other African countries, where harsh realities of impoverished economies, negative impacts of the current international recession and the results of the injustices in the world economic order collectively seem to relegate the need for achieving access legislation on the agenda of national development planning, the pursuit of access legislation should not be regarded as a search for an utopia. Indeed, if the right of persons with disabilities for equality of opportunities in the community is to be enhanced, and if disabled persons are to be mobilized for effective participation in socio-economic development programs, there is the crucial need to make the African built environment more convenient, safe, comfortable and pleasant for use by persons with disabilities, through conscious and imaginative efforts by architects, planners, and developers to make buildings and other environmental physical facilities barrier-free. This should be the goal of access legislation and this paper concludes by advocating the proposed Four-Pronged Strategy to achieve the goal.

In this regard, it cannot be overemphasized that a statutory body should be established to coordinate the proposed actions. For effectiveness, this body should operate independently from the civil service bureaucracy as well as from undue political influences.


Amaoko, J. B., Architectural, Recreational and Transportation Barriers to Integration of the Handicapped into the Community, presented at a Symposium on the Decade of Rehabilitation (Undated).

Hammond, J. 0., Sheltered Employment Centre, Jachie Pramso. Ashanti, University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Faculty of Architecture, unpublished Postgraduate Thesis, 1984.

Hagan E. B., Enhancing Sustainable Integration of the Disabled in the Community: Issues and Challenges, Paper presented at the Department of Social Welfare Seminar on Community-Based Rehabilitation in Ghana, 1991.

Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Canada, Housing the Handicapped, First Edition, 1974.

Ministry of Works and Housing, Ghana Building Regulations, 1988.

Republic of Ghana, Human Settlements (General Planning and Development) Law, Draft Proposals, 1985.

Questions and comments

Q:   Can you tell us a little about the experiences you have had with decentralization in your country. What are the benefits, what are the disadvantages and what do we have to watch out for?

A:   Definitely, the system has its advantages and its disadvantages. The immediate or most obvious advantages are that we have these political bodies directly responsible for identifying problems by district level to find out what resources are available and to work out strategies using these resources to achieve specific socio-economic development programs. They have been in existence for about three years and as far as mobilizing resources on a regional/district basis to solve specific problems, I think a lot of us are satisfied with what we have been able to do. Let us face it, if such small groups do not have the mobilizing of finances, it is a bit more difficult than doing it in the framework of an overall, national program.

The advantage I just mentioned is with direct regard to the people within the district themselves but the disadvantage is having these small activities sometimes with different developmental groups, all having to be put together in a national development program. I must say we have been able to get away with it because currently our system of government is, we do not have a central parliament as such, we have a central government, a national defense council. We are presently going through a process towards parliamentary democracy again and it is a possibility there might be some modifications in the decentralized program we have. All in all most people have endorsed the advantages of the decentralized system of district assemblies. The main problem is how to fuse the sub-systems together to make a national program.

Q:   Another question regards the diagrams you presented. In the transparencies you have an elaborate system of positive reinforcement like awards and citations to reward the various parties for good accessible planning. Is it only carrots you're using, are there no sticks involved? For example, I miss references to the role of the courts.

A:   Well, we did indirectly mention the courts under socio-political actions, we mentioned a whole lot of non-governmental organizations which are involved. In an earlier transparency, the Ghana Association of Lawyers was mentioned and we thought that as a non-governmental organization, they could have a less interfering role in the promotion and drafting as well as a pressure group for the promulgation of these laws. So the Ghana Association of Lawyers was identified as having a very crucial role to play in these activities.

Q:   If somebody violates legislation, where do you take your action to? Can you take your grievances to court and sue for damages for example?

A:   Yes, we expect violations to be raised in courts. The courts as they exist right now are weaknesses of the government. Activities towards the promotion, towards drafting laws, the promulgation becomes, after the lobbying has been done, a governmental activity. Then non-governmental organizations come again to look at their enforcement. Enforcement and evaluation as well as the monitoring. We recognize the fact that the courts exist as a weakness of the government to address violation of the law. We did not bring it up in this context, we did not bring them out as an agency of the government which would be directly involved in the most important activities such as promotion, enforcement and evaluation.

Q:   When you talk about residential construction, you say, "a reasonable percentage" should be made accessible. Would 100 per cent be reasonable?

A:   100 per cent is best, but we have to be very realistic. Several points have been raised where, because of concerns of developers and architects who decide not to incorporate barrier-free design. Interestingly, in our paper we wrote four percent but after listening to my colleagues I was ashamed to read 4 per cent. So 100 per cent would be the best but I think it would be idealistic to mention that so it stands as 4 per cent on my paper.

Q:   If we could just dwell on the percentage. What are the obstacles of having 100 per cent? Is it financial, is it awareness or what is it?

A:   Some of the constraint is financial. It takes a lot more effort for architects, in some developing countries, to convince themselves that it is possible to incorporate barrier-free designs without incurring excessive costs. So some of them with the initial attempt are incorporating barrier-free designs. When it is found out it is more expensive than the conventional way they might have done it then they just make the decision that if we cannot afford or if the client cannot afford these added features at an extra cost then, if I can get away with it, I would rather do without putting in these extra design features for accessibility. But I need the help of other people in the field to explain what the real problems are and why this is not yet 100 per cent.

Q:   What percentage of housing is designed by architects and erected by constructors, or which percentage is self-help built? What are we discussing when we are talking about regulation and controls in your country?

A:   The context on which we prepared our paper was on public buildings; for education, employment, entertainment, recreation, etc. These fall within the formal construction sector where an architect does the design, and then during construction the architect forms part of the supervisory group to make sure the design considerations are done. The context in which most of these actions have been talked about is the formal sector of public buildings.

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