Uganda is scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on January 14. Like many other people, persons with disabilities are participating as candidates and voters.
Some of them have already made up their minds about whom to vote, while others are completely undecided or don’t care much. But the question is: who is promising what or how inclusive are manifestoes of the candidates? From the review of the manifestoes of three major political parties (NRM, FDC and NUP), it is evident that persons with disabilities are recognized as one of marginalized groups.
However, beyond the recognition, needs of persons with disabilities are not well-articulated in the manifestos. To mention but a few, NRM promises to continue with affirmative action to ‘continue empowering them’ while FDC’s candidate notes “I am a candidate of the largely ignored PWDs blinded by tokenism”.
FDC dedicates two pages to persons with disabilities while NRM and NUP provide a paragraph or two. FDC promises a range of plans from education, agriculture, transportation, building, provision of tri-cycles, implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), employment, political representation and health.
On the other hand, NRM promises to continue political representation and affirmative action, access to economic empowerment financing such as Emyooga, OWC and special grants for persons with disabilities; and revamping two regional schools for the deaf. On her part, NUP pledges to make court buildings accessible; improve access to education; invest in high-tech equipment and skills training; and provide for the use of sign language, among others.
There seems to be limited understanding of disability and persons with disabilities and in effect narrow diagnosis and policy proposals to address needs of persons with disabilities. People with physical impairment are more thought of and physical accessibility more pronounced compared to other barriers faced by persons with disabilities.
There is no manifesto that attempts to categorise persons with disabilities. For instance, FDC promises are not strong on the much-needed issue of economically empowering persons with physical impairment. That’s why when it comes to reasonable accommodation, they promise to provide tri-cycles.
What about those with hearing impairment, visual impairment, mental impairment, intellectual impairment, albinism, epilepsy etc? More still, on education, NRM promises to revamp two regional institutions for the deaf. Being deaf myself, I commend this but how will this intervention benefit other categories of persons with disabilities? And how will this intervention promote the idea of inclusive education?
Similarly, NUP talks about ‘making court buildings accessible; what about other buildings, including offices, schools, health facilities, arcades and places of worship thronged by many persons with disabilities? All these point to lack of a clear understanding of key barriers and concerns of persons with disabilities.
Most of the issues included in the manifestos seemed to have been misplaced. A manifesto should give policy directions. Beyond the promises, aspirants need to categorically state whether they are committed to issues of inclusion. It is about articulating a commitment that will be a basis for all policy directives.
A simple commitment such as “We shall ensure that persons with different types of disabilities are mainstreamed in all our development programs and offered all required reasonable accommodation.”
An appendix showing different categories of persons with disabilities and their specific needs to enable their inclusion could be attached for clarity. This would ensure that all reasonable accommodation needs for different categories of persons with disabilities are addressed.
By ‘reasonable accommodation’, I mean a modification or adjustment in the way things are usually done to enable individuals with disability to access, utilize and enjoy equal opportunities/ services. For example, provision of assistive devices such as constructing ramps/ lifts, wheelchairs, whitecanes, hearing aids etc. or specialized services such as sign language interpretation services, braille, sun-screen lotion (for those living with albinism), etc.
To illustrate this, I first ask two quick questions: how many presidential or parliamentary candidates are using sign language interpreters in their campaigns? How many have made their manifesto accessible in braille? Yet, NRM and NUP have specific promises to persons with hearing impairment as well as those with visual impairment.
For example, NUP promises “to provide the use of sign language and braille in public institutions and at national public functions” but we have not seen any sign language interpreter at their campaign rallies, neither is there a brailled NUP manifesto.
I observe the same on NRM and FDC. In short, they are not walking the talk from the start!
The author is a deaf person working as a disability inclusion specialist.