The Gulu Disabled Persons Union is on a mission. A mission to physically change the environment around them to ensure that accessibility becomes more than just a catchphrase for the Disability Rights movement. There is an Accessibility Audit team working with the GDPU that includes Okumu Santo, Chairman of the District Association of the Blind, Teddy Luwar, Local District Council III Representative for Women with disabilities, and Adong Carolyn Rose, the Vice Chairperson for the Gulu Disabled Persons Union. Together, they have been taking the Gulu Municipality to task for its shortcomings in accessibility issues.
“Accessibility” has several connotations, and relates to much more than the wheelchair ramp that I’m sure you envisioned when you first heard it. There are several other capacities of accessibility, in fact. There needs to be accessibility to information, accessibility to services, accessibility to communication, and even accessibility to the accessibility debate. Consider this:
For a person in a wheelchair, a building without ramps and adequately wide doorways is an inaccessible environment.
-For those unable to speak, a hospital that has no staff members trained in sign language is attempting to provide an inaccessible service
-For those unable to hear, important announcements broadcast over the radio are promoting inaccessible information
-For those without representation in the local government, political decisions are part of an inaccessible public process
People living with disabilities are shut out of life in so many ways that it can be discouraging to even leave the house. This is an issue that all communities struggle with and it occurs in a vicious circle: PWDs feel excluded and unheard so they stop speaking up about their particular issues, policy makers lack input from PWDs and fail to implement appropriate measures into policy, PWDS feel excluded and discouraged and things don’t change, and so on and so on.
This is where the auditors come in. I have had the opportunity to go around with this team from the GDPU as they inspect public buildings and meet with public officials about the need to include the interests of PWDs in the budgeting and planning process. The team is generally met with enthusiasm about the proposed partnership and real progress seems to be on the horizon. Currently, there have been some good faith efforts on the part of the government to build more accessible buildings but the work is sometimes misguided. The wheelchair ramps that the District Engineers build are generally not up to standard and generally just look like someone smoothed out a staircase. Consequently, the ramps are usually far too steep and not functional. The GDPU has recently developed a standardized set of accessibility guidelines that it is busy distributing to contractors throughout the country.
The Accessibility Audit team has made large strides towards bridging the divide between civil society at large and the people living with disabilities that it sometimes unwittingly excludes. These are issues that need to be addressed all around the world to some extent and Uganda’s policies, if implemented correctly, would be quite progressive. A large burden of the coordinating work is falling on the GDPU, but as this accessibility gap narrows, Uganda will continue on its way to becoming a model nation for not only Africa, but also for the world.
Posted By Bryan Lupton
Posted Jul 11th, 2009