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Today we remember

International Day of Persons with Disabilities 

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Today, December 3, marks International Day of Persons with Disability, a day set aside to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights, and wellbeing of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to drive awareness about the need to integrate persons with disabilities into the political, social, economic and cultural life in all societies.

The World Health Organization estimates that 650 million people, representing 10% of the world’s population, live with disability. About 40% of Africa’s population consists of people with disabilities. For a continent where the inequality gap does not show signs of ending anytime soon, having one or more disability forms predisposes the individual to varying forms of social, economic, and political exclusion.  A greater number of Africans with disabilities are excluded from schools and opportunities for work, virtually guaranteeing that they live as the poorest of the poor. School enrolment for the disabled is estimated at no more than 5-10 percent and as many as 70-80 percent of working age people with disabilities are unemployed.

Also, the interests and wellbeing of people with disabilities are not considered in development planning. This explains why much of the continent’s state and private institutions are not disability friendly, depriving them of access to essential services and violating their basic human rights in the process.

But more than anything else, a cultural and social environment that stigmatizes people with disabilities fosters this plight. This results in marginalization and isolation, and explains why Africa’s urban streets teem with people living with disabilities who take to begging for survival. For these people, who in every measure are full and equal humans, the stifling of their potentials and creative abilities by the structures of society is a painful injustice that forces them to the lowest rung of the economic and political ladder.

As the world celebrates this day, countries in Africa must take stock of this historic imbalance and reckon how much they stand to gain if they ensured the participation of persons living with disability in mainstream life. Several initiatives have been taken in this regard, such as the proclamation of the of the African Decade of Disabled Persons (2000-2009) at the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in 2000, resulting in the passage of Disability Acts in Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, South Africa, among others. However, the full results of these policies are yet to be seen.

This year’s celebration of person’s with disability is on the theme ‘Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda’. It seeks to place a focus on the empowerment of persons with disabilities for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as envisaged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which pledges to ‘leave no one behind.’

As the world commemorates the day, countries in Africa must do more than draft acts and resolutions; They must ensure the full execution of these policies to bridge the economic, political and social disconnect between people with disabilities and the rest of the society.

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