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We need to change the mindset on disability

On August 29, the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (Nudipu), organised a public lecture on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) with the theme: ‘CRPD in a developing country; opportunities and challenges for domestication.’

The event was aimed at familiarising stakeholders with the international legal instrument so as to enhance their capacities to domesticate the legal framework that government of Uganda signed in September 2008.

It was also meant to lobby stakeholders to support efforts towards the domestication processes.

As one of the organisers of the event, I noticed both how little is known about disability issues and how much goodwill there is towards the issues.

Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Kahinda Otafiire discussed the main presentation by Law Professor Emeritus Ron McCallum, from the University of Sydney, the vice-chairperson of the United Nations committee of experts on Disability.

As soon as Otafiire took to the podium, he picked issue with the hotel’s failure to provide the visually impaired professor with a microphone stand.

Yet to many of us this was not unusual, given the rampant negative attitudes meted against PWDs by service providers.

While the CRPD provides for reasonable accommodation of PWDs in matters of legislation, involvement and representation, physical environment and service delivery, not much has been done to observe it.

To Otafiire, disability starts in the mind. So, to address disability concerns, the minister believes, we need to first work on community’s mental disability. Many will disagree with the minister’s viewpoint, but certainly his argument holds a lot of reason.

My only issue with his reasoning is that it narrows disability to only one category of disability—mental.
According to Otafiire, many of us —including our leaders—have mindset challenges which inhibit us from addressing disability concerns. This phenomenon acts as an impediment to interventions meant to promote enjoyment of equal rights by PWDs.

This is manifested in poor budget allocation, express exclusion in development programmes and continuous violation of the PWDs human rights. Notably, corruption remains a stimulus in accelerating these negative attitudes, which is why the minister challenged us to collectively reject graft.

Otafiire, in this regard, is, therefore, right to assert that many of us (together with our leaders) have mental disability. From the above, it is clear that government and other stakeholders have a lot of work to do to ensure that PWDs realise their potential.

Key among the things that would help are domesticating the CRPD, providing reasonable accommodation on systems that are existing to make them disability-sensitive or creating some, where they are not.

There is also this whole thing called policy implementation. In fact, this is where we are doing so badly as a country. I am tempted to think that probably we might want to set up a school that could provide our government officers with skills on policy implementation.

We have many policies gathering dust on government shelves, even as more money is spent on developing new ones. At the public lecture, Otafiire did not want history to judge him harshly as someone who did not make most of his office to support PWDs.

For starters, he is setting up a disability desk at his ministry to scrutinise all the bills and laws at their initial development to make them disability-sensitive.

We need such interest and goodwill from all our leaders in different fields, if we are to translate our good policies into meaningful change in the lives of PWDs.

The author is the communications manager, Nudipu.

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