In the Gambia, as in all other countries of the world, there are people living with disabilities. These people sometimes face issues of discrimination either overtly or covertly. This is something that many a time, we tend to overlook. Many of these people may feel excluded and may not have a voice or a platform to express their dissatisfaction.
As we live in a Republic, it is important to inculcate the concept of inclusion and equality in sovereignty regardless of our differences in ethnic background, religious affiliation, and physical ability or otherwise. All citizens are equal and have a right to inclusion. This should not be only rhetoric but tangible steps must be taken to ensure that everyone sees himself or herself in whatever we do as a nation.
When we give equal opportunities to persons with disabilities, we must not present it as a favour or a kindness on our part; it is a right that must be fulfilled and protected. The primary duty bearer in terms of the protection and fulfillment of the rights of citizens is the State and therefore the government must be seen to be fulfilling and protecting the rights of all, including the persons with disabilities.
There is already a comprehensive Act, which seeks to provide rights to the people living with disabilities. The Act provides a comprehensive framework, which can – should help – both Government and the population with guidelines as to how to ensure that these people are not discriminated against or marginalized in any way.
One area in which I observe that the rights of personswith disabilities are not always fulfilled is access to information. The Act provides for this but it seems that it is not always respected. We observe that sometimes vital information is shared for public consumption while sufficient effort is not made to ensure that people living with a disability also have access to it. The latest example is the recently concluded public scrutiny of the nomination of candidates for the upcoming presidential elections in which some – if not majority – of the media houses did not provide sign language for the benefit of these people.
For instance, on the issue of access to information the Act reads in part, “Every relevant Government authority shall promote the rights of persons with disabilities to access information through – (a) the development and use of sign language and sign language interpreters in all public institutions and at public functions; (b) brailing and synthesizing (audio) of public information, such as Government documents, Government newspapers and other publications; and(c) ensuring that communications with the public is available in all accessible formats to persons with disabilities.”
It is quite clear from the above that providing access to information on all important matters to persons with disabilities is not a favour or an act of kindness; rather, it is an obligation on the State and all its institutions and the general population at large. This is something that we, in The Gambia, particularly need to pay attention to if we truly wish to further our nascent democracy.
In a republic, there are diverse set of people because human beings are not entirely uniform in their make-up and other characteristics. Our diversity, or our differences in sex, age, language, religion, capacity or physical make-up among others presuppose our unity. No one should be discriminated or made unequal on account of his or her difference of any kind. The republic is built on diversity and inclusion hence unity. Above all, the sovereignty of the Gambia resides in allGambians, equally regardless of the form of disabilityor not one carries.
The media and civil society organizations must speak out about these exclusions and hold institutions that violate the rights of persons with disabilities accountable. We must begin to bring this to the attention of the public to minimize the incidents of these exclusions.