Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Lack of education, access to rehabilitation
undermine potential of disabled persons

By Stella Barozi

(According WHO, more than one billion people in the world are disabled, over 80 percent of them live in developing countries. File photo)

You must have seen this TV advert: The CCBRT disability hospital’s ad, where expectant mothers attending antenatal clinic are led by a nurse to an upstairs room for Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT).

One of the women is disabled and on a wheel-chair. Her journey to the VCT room upstairs ends at the stairs. She can not go up the stairs on a wheel chair. The hospital has no ramps for people with disabilities.

In another radio advert, some women also attending antenatal clinic are asked by a nurse to read a certain paragraph in a book. Unfortunately one of the women is blind and therefore can not read the paragraph because it is not printed in Braille.

These are just a few examples of the many challenges people with disabilities in the country face in their daily life. Accessibility is still a very big problem in Tanzania. There are many environmental barriers in the country as buildings and public transportation are largely inaccessible.

A very recent study on ‘The Status of the Implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities of 2006 and People with Disabilities Laws of Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar’ jointly done by a lecturer of the University of Dar es Salaam, Lucas Kija and Advocate Clarence Kipobota paints a gloomy picture.

The study findings presented at a workshop for People with Disabilities (PWDs) on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) organized by the Foundation for Civil Society at the Blue Pearl Hotel in Dar es Salaam on Monday show that most public buildings and areas in the country are inaccessible.

For example, 95 percent of school buildings, even those built during the Primary Education Development Programme (PEDP) are inaccessible.

The CRPD represents a significant step towards addressing the critical poverty and social exclusion experienced by women, men, girls and boys with disabilities and their families.

Studies show that in most developing countries there are significant gaps between the standards set by the CRPD and the reality on the ground for PWDs.

While many governments have signed or ratified the treaty, they often lack crucial information on how to develop inclusive policies and programmes that can have a meaningful impact on the lives of disabled individuals.

The parliament of Tanzania passed the People with Disabilities Act of 2010 in April 2010 in order to implement the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The President of Tanzania signed the law in May 2010 and it became operational in July the same year.

The main objectives of the law include explaining specific sections concerning access to adequate services in the fields of health care, social protection, accessibility of services for PWDs, education and vocational training, communication, employment and rights of PWDs in general.

However, the study done between March and April this year which was presented on Monday at the PWDs workshop found that PWDs are among groups of people living in the most dangerous environment in Tanzania. Most of them are very poor, have low education, they suffer social exclusion, are unemployed, lack training and therefore lag behind when it comes to awareness on the country’s laws.

Previous studies show that lack of education, and accesses to rehabilitation undermine the potential of persons with disabilities to enter into vocational training programmes and consequently, access employment opportunities. This has been identified as a major cause of exclusion and poverty among PWDs.

In his opening remarks during the workshop, Foundation for Civil Society Executive Director, John Ulanga said Tanzania is rich but a third of Tanzanians are poor, especially PWDs. He pledged more support to the Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs), which he urged to use the opportunity to tell the Foundation how they would like to be supported. More than 200 DPOs have been supported by the Foundation so far.

Back to accessibility. In the 11 regions and 21 districts of Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar where the study was done, many buildings are old and inaccessible. The buildings have steep stairs and very narrow corridors that can not allow a wheel- chair user to move comfortably.

According to the study, there is no assistance for direction, like having people in place to show you the way, maps or sign language interpreters to enable easy access to public buildings, roads, elevators and public transport such as commuter buses.

“In Lindi municipality, only six buildings out of hundreds of buildings and public areas in the municipality have been renovated to meet the required standards to enable accessibility to both disabled and non-disabled people,” said the researchers.

They gave an example of a respondent working with the Tanzania Buildings Agency (TBA) in Lindi who said it was difficult to renovate most of the buildings because most of them are old. The respondent said today there is no close follow up on new buildings as far as the required standards are concerned. He said many contractors do not follow architects’ advice when constructing buildings which is why they don’t put accessibility to persons with disabilities into consideration.

The study found out that many architects and engineers are ignorant of the laws and mostly follow what the clients want rather than advising them on what the law requires. Some know the regulations but are said to be unwilling to comply.

Although the situation generally is poor, the study found some positive signs in Pemba, where most schools were re-designed to comply with the requirements of universal accessibility.

Things are said to be worse on roads. At Zebra crossings for example, drivers ignore people with white canes. Instead of letting these people with visual impairment to cross the road, they usually confuse them by honking at them.  

A respondent with visual impairment testified on how she was made to stand for three hours at the bus stop because she had no one to help her. Since she could not tell which dala dala to board, the conductors would ignore her, perhaps like she said “they thought I could not pay fare.”

Another testimony was given by a respondent with physical disability who was not allowed entry on a dala dala because the conductor claimed there was no space for his wheel chair on the bus.
Even the doors in some buildings are too narrow to allow passage for wheelchairs.

In some cases, in hotels for example, owners make adjustments for fear of losing customers. They don’t do so because they care for the disabled persons. It is such exclusion and discrimination that has seen people with disability remaining poor.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s 2011 disability report, more than one billion people (15 per cent of the world population) are disabled. Over 80 percent of these live in developing countries. Approximately one in five persons living in absolute poverty have some kind of impairment, confirming the vicious link between poverty and disability that is well known today and has been reflected in various research and reports.

Tanzania does not have reliable statistics of PWDs but it is estimated that 7.8 percent of mainland Tanzania’s over 40 million population are disabled. The statistics for Zanzibar are 5.9 per cent of the population.
Despite having ratified the 2006 UN convention, Tanzania, like is the case with many developing countries lacks enforcement mechanisms to ensure policies are respected and implemented.
This is because many PWDs as well as government officials are ignorant of the UN convention and the national laws on the rights of persons with disability. The reason why there has been low implementation of the laws which has seen PWDs excluded in development programmes and being denied their rights to social services.

Among the recommendations made by the researchers at the Blue Pearl workshop include sensitization of Local Government Authorities on the requirements of these laws so they can start taking pro-active roles to implement them. They said the government should allocate a specific budget in order to operationalise the law.

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