Every December 3, the United Nations (UN) celebrates the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The day is set aside to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities (PWDs).
According to data from the UN and World Bank, about 15 per cent of the world’s population live with some form of disability, and 70 per cent of the over one billion PWDs are unemployed.
The plight of PWDs in Africa is tragic. Several policies and circumstances expose PWDs to attitudinal, physical, policy, and social barriers that violate their rights. In most African countries, PWDs experience exploitation, abuse, exclusion, and marginalisation.
They do not have equal access to education, healthcare, employment opportunities, housing, social protection systems, justice, and participation in political life.
The UN, through its numerous legal frameworks, provides for the protection of the rights of PWDs. Prominent among these frameworks is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
Among many other things, the CRPD protects against discrimination against PWDs based on their disability. Unfortunately, despite being parties to the Convention, discrimination against PWDs still happens in most African countries.
For instance, Article 29 of the CPRD provides for the political rights of PWDs, yet since the treaty’s adoption in 2006, PWDs continue to suffer disenfranchisement directly and indirectly.
According to Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), vulnerable groups, including PWDs, constituted over 70 per cent of registered voters in the West African nation’s 2023 presidential election.
Yet, data from SB Morgen Intelligence shows that only about 22 per cent of the PWDs got assisted aid to enable them to participate in the election.
PWDs also suffer discrimination in the workplace. In Kenya, for instance, military agencies do not recruit people who stammer. According to the Vice Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, being in the military requires excellent communication, and someone who stammers may not be good at it.
Denying people who stammer a chance at military jobs is discriminatory and a contravention of the CRPD, which Kenya is party to. Article 27 of the Convention prohibits discrimination based on disability concerning all forms of employment, including conditions of recruitment.
Violating the rights of PWDs is an oppression in itself, but beyond that, it robs Africa of numerous developments, especially economic developments.
While ratifying the CRPD or formulating regional and national disability policies is good, making local laws to protect the rights of PWDs will be a great starting point. African governments should ensure that PWDs enjoy fundamental human rights equally with other people by making economic provisions for them.
The African society views PWDs through a welfare lens. Africans mostly see PWDs as victims of circumstances who are deserving of pity and charitable resources for support. It is high time this perspective changed.
African governments should include PWDs in their economic and political plans. This shift of approach can be achieved by dedicating a quota to PWDs during the government’s labour recruitment.
A certain percentage of employment opportunities in state-owned organisations should be reserved for qualified PWDs, and private establishments should be encouraged to do the same.
In empowering PWDs, the state should prioritise an inclusive educational system. Having a free society where PWDs enjoy equal rights and are empowered to contribute equally to the continent’s economic development is the goal. Policymakers should reform the education system in Africa to incorporate PWDs into the regular school system without necessarily segregating them.
A recent report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Funds (UNICEF) shows that curriculum adaptations that respond to the needs of children with disabilities are yet to be made in several African countries, especially in East and South Africa.
African countries must adopt curriculums catering to all learners’ categories, including PWDs. Governments should ensure that schools and institutions of learning are accessible and also provide assistive devices to ease learning.
Some African countries are trying to empower PWDs. The Nigerian government, for instance, recently disbursed cash to PWDs, while PWDs in Kenya got tools to assist in their businesses and jobs. These initiatives are quite commendable but may not be sustainable in the long run.
African governments should empower PWDs with digital skills to make them relevant and compete equally in the workspace. To this effect, governments should collaborate with private institutions to establish IT skills training centres for PWDs.
Olajide Oladokun is a fellow at African Liberty, a U.S.-based think-tank focused on advancing individual freedom, peace, and prosperity in Africa. He’s available at email@example.com or on X as @LajideOladokun. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.