Persons with disabilities in Ghana continue to experience various forms of discrimination and social exclusion. These happen even though several anti-discriminatory laws are meant to protect and secure the rights of persons with disabilities and facilitate their participation in mainstream social, political, and economic activities.
Disabled people are one of the largest oppressed groups in Ghana, making up an estimated 3% of Ghana’s population of 30 million (Ghana statistical service 2012, Picton 2011).
Arguably, the most important, contributing factor to the continuous marginalization of disabled people in Ghana now is the weakness in aspects of the legal and regulatory structures meant to protect them. This piece is to therefore call to attention the need to explore how persons with disabilities could be made important players in the Ghanaian political space.
Article 42 of the 1992 constitution of Ghana gives every citizen the right to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections. It states, “Every citizen of Ghana of eighteen years of age or above and of sound mind has the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for public elections and referenda”. In as much as I disagree with the concept of normality being introduced here (“sound mind” to be tackled in my next article), the constitution is clear on the fact that every citizen has the right to vote but how has the government, civil societies and state institutions like the electoral commission who are clothed with the powers to conduct elections taken into consideration the rights and the needs of persons with disabilities over the years?
Since 2006 with the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Dsabilities (CRPD) of which Ghana is a signatory, the international community committed to promote and advocate for the inclusion and active participation of persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others.
Since then we have witnessed many relevant and important achievements in many areas in the life of persons with disabilities but much more needs to be done. The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a clear vision of leaving no one behind, including those with disabilities is an important reminder on us as a nation of the tasks ahead. We will fail as a nation to achieve the new development we crave if we don’t consider disability inclusion from the starting point.
To advance towards development that is inclusive for all, there should be mutually reinforcing efforts by the government and the various stakeholders to ensure effective inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities with a critical focus on political participation.
This article is of critical importance as it contributes to a clear overview of how we can make strides in the efforts of ensuring the equal participation of all persons with disabilities in political activities as a country. That the government, electoral commission, and civil society organizations have a role to play in ensuring that accessibility and inclusiveness are not an afterthought but a critical and central component of their work. These state parties must guarantee the political rights and the opportunity to enjoy them on an equal basis with others, the right and opportunities for persons with disabilities to vote and be voted for.
The following must be critically considered and looked at as a country to achieve inclusive development. As a country, we must ensure that voting procedures, facilities, and materials are appropriate, accessible, and easy to understand and use by persons with all manner of disabilities (hearing impaired, blind or visually impaired, physically challenged, etc.).
Let us protect persons with disabilities to vote in elections and public referendums without intimidations. Various political parties must create opportunities to enable PWDs to effectively hold political offices and perform all public functions at all levels of government.
The government must liaise with the appropriate rehabilitation professionals like the Occupational therapist, Speech therapists, and Sign language interpreters, etc. to create and facilitate assistive devices and new technologies where appropriate to make the electoral processes very easy and convenient for all.
Let us create an opportunity where necessary at their request, allowing assistance in voting by a person of their own choice. Registration, exhibition, and pooling centers must be designed such that PWDs can effectively and fully participate in the conduct of general elections. They should not encounter any physical barrier or obstacle from the physical environment in their quest to exercise their franchise.
To conclude, it is important that as a nation who is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we cannot fail in our strive for development by failing to create an inclusive society where everyone has a sense of belonging.
It is important to stress once again that there are no excuses for leaving persons with disabilities behind; our recognition as equal members of society will bring prosperity to all and create towns and cities that are respectful and safe for all humankind.
Nana Bredu-Darkwa Peter
Disability, Health and Wellness consultant
MPhil. Student (KNUST)
Ghana statistical Statistical Service (2012). 2010 Population and Housing Census.
Picton A., (2011). Denying Ghana’s Disabled Their rights. The Disability Act: 5 years on. Accra Ghana: CHRI Africa.
Republic of Ghana (1992). The constitution of the Republic of Ghana.
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD-2006).