We have yet to invest adequately in building disabled-friendly infrastructure and facilities. We now have a national policy for persons with disabilities (PWD).
The Constitution requires us to pursue inclusive development. Article 7 (Fundamental Rights) Section 15 of the Constitution reads thusly: “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal and effective protection of the law and shall not be discriminated against on the grounds of race, sex, language, religion, politics or other status.” It is the State’s responsibility to provide security in the event of sickness and disability or lack of adequate means of livelihood for reasons beyond a person’s control. However, certain sections of our society still cannot access and enjoy the benefits of development.
This must change.
The policy seeks to improve the lives of people with disability by empowering them to enjoy their rights so that they can fully and equally participate as members of the society, promote inclusive development through mainstreaming disability initiatives in plans, policies and programmes, improve access to opportunities and services for people with disability, improve the socio-economic condition of people with disability and their family, and change attitude and behaviour of society towards people with disability.
But there is a yawning gap when it comes to improving access to opportunities and services for persons with disabilities. We have made some stride in the area of education but that is obviously not enough. Lack of other facilities, particularly infrastructural, has implications on the health and socioeconomic conditions of people living with disabilities.
The policy demands that we, the government in particular, should progressively remove environmental and educational barriers facing the people living with disabilities. When the lack of disabled-friendly infrastructure and facilities in the country limit the movement of certain sections of our people, we risk creating social exclusion. But so much will depend on how we are able to translate the policy into reality.
It is not enough that we carry out accessibility audit from time to time to identify the barriers. There is an urgent need to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. Today, for instance, except for some schools that have special programme for differently-abled people, have we thought about making all our educational institutions friendly to the people with disability? What about our transport infrastructure? Without a universally accessible transport system, we risk excluding or marginalising people living with disabilities.
Creating awareness and staging sensitisation programmes from time to time is important but we need to do more because we can. Right intervention is critically important. The central aim of the policy is to give people living with disabilities employment opportunities and economic security. And this will require investment in infrastructure and access. Policy is just a beginning.