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Breaching The Gap : How Inclusive Is Our Society Today, Advocacy For The Disabled - Elias Kodelogo


For several years or even decades, the treatment meted out to persons with impairments has been utterly appalling to say the least. Many a person with impairment has in one way or the other been looked on with disdain or even contempt as a result of their impairment. The awful practice has persisted and has remained very pervasive throughout the globe. The reasons for this supercilious attitude towards persons with impairments are the lack of understanding of impairments and the numerous social heracies about impairment. 

It must however, be stated from the outset that impairment is not the same as disability or even handicap as many would unreflectively assume. These terms or concepts are at variance and should not be used interchangeably as many of our fellow citizens do. Throughout the world, chilling narratives of how persons with impairments are made to face up to incredibly dehumanizing and debilitating conditions abound and the thought of these injustices perpetrated against us flares me up. Are we not just like you? And why should a difference in biology be used as a ground for persecution?. Until recently, people born with any form of impairment were seen as retributions from the gods hence such children were hastily liquidated in order to avert any embarrassment to that family. What is even more startling is how the birth of an impaired child can throw the whole family into disarray with some marriages even collapsing. It has been revealed much to my dismay that parents upon being told about the birth of an impaired child, first express denial, then guilt, anger before steeling themselves to accept such a child. The query worth asking at this juncture is whether those children are not worthy of life or God who created them did not know what he was doing. The answers to these queries are obvious to any rational person and should not create any pandemonium in a family. It is important to intimate that recent sustained efforts at guaranteeing the rights of persons with impairments has yielded little results with societies still obstinately holding on to their superstitions and still treats the impaired child with cruelty. 

At this moment, it would be essential to clarify the distinctions between impairment and disability. Firstly, impairment is the loss or damage to all or part of a body.  This can either be a damage to the leg which will result in physical impairment or trachoma which affects the eye. Impairment can thus, be anatomical, physiological or psychological. Impairment therefore, can be said to be an injury, illness or congenital condition that causes or is likely to cause a loss of difference in psychological, anatomical or physiological function. Disability on the other-hand, is the description of the functional levels of the person experiencing the impairment or it is the impact of impairment on the performance of activities considered as components of everyday life. This implies that a person with impairment is not necessarily disable unless such a person cannot perform some functions or experiences difficulties in executing such functions. Over the years, scholars have endeavored to explain disability and one of such scholars is Kaplan who opined that some four models were used in explaining disability. According to him, the first is the moral model which views disability as the consequence of sin and a punishment from the gods. This perfectly captures the pervasive view of disability in our part of the world. Another one is the medical model which considers disability as the effect of sickness which can be remedied through medical intervention. The rehabilitation model, a variant of the former model also sees disability as a defect which can be fixed through rehabilitation by professionals or society in general. The last model which is the social model sees disability as the outcome of the domineering attitudes of society and its occupants and the proclivity to gloss over the variations in the disable community as well as the barriers put in the paths of persons with impairments. It can be inferred from the last model that its proponents do not see disability as any biological issue but rather puts the source of this condition at the door step of society and suggests that if all these barriers and inequities are removed or resolved, the concept of disability will cease to exist. I must say that I partly agree with this view though I also believe disability can be caused by illness or sickness as the medical model contends. Notwithstanding this, we must all denounce and renounce the moral model which sees disability as punishment for a sin and has subsequently been used to justify the havoc callous members wreak on persons with impairments. the persecution of people who suffer impairments in our world is so nauseating that I am not even able to find the appropriate words to describe them. 

In extreme cases, these persecutions lead to elimination from this world. Many of us with impairments have often been kept in very secluded places out of public view which they say is meant to prevent others from ridiculing them. The crimes committed against us even today, are tantamount to human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Though no fault of ours, we are mercilessly refused the right and freedom to associate and identify with others as any so-called normal person will do all in the name of saving their faces. It is in recognition of these violations against us that several well-meaning individuals decided to drum home the need to accord us our dignity and grant us unrestrained access to life’s benevolence. As our plight came to the attention of many people who subscribe to the idea of equity, They tried to resolve them and ameliorate our condition by suggesting that we be trained in separate institutions which was the dawn of the idea of segregation. However, it was soon noticed that parents as well as custodians of persons with impairments regarded these training institutions as dumping grounds where they could abandon their impaired children without having to return for them. In a response to this insane behavior, stakeholders again recommended zero reject which also proved to be somewhat ineffectual in dealing with the canker since persons with impairments were not actually gaining anything from it. The result of this was the subsequent transition to mainstreaming and integration and the current idea of inclusive education. But I dare to ask how our society has implemented this widely acclaimed idea of inclusivity and whether we are living up to the thorough meaning of inclusivity. The ensuing paragraphs will throw more light on this as well as some daunting obstacles that still remain in our path.

• Before I proceed to assess the inclusivity or otherwise of our society, it will be crucial to expatiate on the ideology of inclusivity which Ghana is a signatory. This explanation will give support to the conclusions I will be making at he end of this article and also enable readers judge for themselves through their own lenses whether our country for that matter society is genuinely inclusive and even if there is the willingness to attain this status. Inclusion refers to providing education for persons with impairments and special education needs in the regular classrooms. It remains the most efficient and perfect way to create welcoming communities, establish inclusive societies, eliminate all forms of discriminatory practices and providing education for all. Proponents of this ideology are of the view that all forms of discriminations are morally wrong and educationally ineffective hence countries should do their best possible to craft policies which will ensure the effective running of this redemptive and non-discriminative ideologyInclusion traces its roots to the crusades for equal access to education and the need to eradicate the wanton human rights violations and injustices perpetrated against persons with impairments. It is very significant to note that a substantial portion of the global community live with impairments of various kinds and therefore, need to be given the chance to realize their full potential regardless of their impairments. This ideology became necessary as mainstreaming and integration turned out to be incapable of stemming the tide of discrimination against this minority group. According to Mittler, the main force propelling the inclusive agenda is human rights. He contends that children have the right to attend  any school and treating others in a different manner does not recognize their equality and dignity. A United nations statement in 2001, makes it aptly succinct that discrimination against a person  on grounds of disability amount to violating the person’s dignity and worth. Another organization with a similar view is human rights perspective. To them, the existence of special schools for persons with impairments is an empirical case of institutional discrimination which clearly contravenes the ideology of inclusion. The council for disabled persons once stated that no child should be refused access to inclusion in the regular school and the regular schools should provide the range of support and specialist services needed to assist the child access a broad and balance education. This declaration coupled with the proclamations of the conference on special education needs in Salamanca, Spain, 1994, rekindled the desire of governments to advocate equal education for all. Inclusive education according to Mittler, involves a radical reform of the school in terms of its curriculum, assessment, pedagogy and grouping of children. Inclusive education unlike its forerunners i.e. mainstreaming and integration, concerns itself with the right of the child to participate and the duty of the school to receive them. After all, the right to education is a universal one and nobody can subvert it based on infantile excuses. As a matter of fact, the Salamanca conference made some declarations which were required to be adopted by all countries in order to operationalize inclusion to its logical conclusion. With the enormity of support for inclusive education, one was tempted to imagine that inclusion had been enshrined while segregation and its concomitant discrimination had been eradicated and outlawed from our society but this is a comforting self-delusion as these dehumanizing acts still pertain and are still been practiced in our country. The 1994 Salamanca conference recommended that governments all over the globe should Give the highest policy and budgetary priority to improve education services so that all children could be included, regardless of difficulties.

• Adopt as a matter of law or policy the principle of inclusive education and to enroll all children in ordinary schools unless there are compelling reasons for doing otherwise.
• Ensure that organizations of disabled people along with parents and community bodies are involved in planning and decision-making.
• Put greater effort into pre-school strategies, as well as vocational aspects of inclusive education in order to do away with discrimination and other unjust practices.

Though, our country has passed the disability act (act 715), this has largely been a theoretical document without any conscious attempt to ensure its full functionalization. For instance, the act made it mandatory for all public buildings to be made accessible to persons with impairments but this has not been complied with since the inception of this act more than ten years ago. Many public buildings including some of those few inclusive schools in our country remain somewhat inaccessible to many persons with impairments. For instance, some lecture theatres in the University of Cape coast are totally inaccessible to the physically impaired since there are no ramps through which they can get to the various lecture theatres with their wheel chairs. With regard to adopting inclusivity as a matter of law or principle, this country has done exactly that albeit in theory. Inclusion in Ghana only exist in abstraction with very little evidence to show as testaments of this laudable policy. It is heart wrenching to note that out of the over thousand schools we have in this country, less than hundred of these are inclusive and even those practicing inclusion are logistically deficient. I cite again, the University of Cape coast because I have been there and I have witnessed at first hand how exclusive the university is which is a sharp contrast to its aim of providing education for all. I give a few instances to justify this claim. Firstly, the University library which is the nerve center of academic activity on campus is totally beyond the reach of any person with visual impairment there. It is out of reach because the books in the library are largely in print format and without any electronic system where these books can be accessed, the visually impaired students in the University are unable to access these books except with the aid of a friend which cannot always be possible since talking in the library is proscribed. This in effect limits these students and does not afford them the chance to broaden their scope of learning since they are only having access to handouts from lecturers which often contain very scanty information. Furthermore, all departmental libraries are not accessible to the visually impaired on campus since all of them do not have sections for them. Many other theoretically inclusive schools face similar obstacles in their endeavour to practice inclusivity but space will not allow me to include all of them in this article. For our country to give true meaning to inclusion, it must start implementing inclusivity from the top ranked schools which are already resource endowed and can easily adapt to make this policy function very well. The practice of making already under-resourced schools practice inclusion implies exacerbating their precarious situation. This is because these schools are literally struggling to make do with what little resources they have and making them add another programme which requires a lot of resources and personnel to execute, will be as if As pouring oil on flames. for consultations with disability organizations and parents the least said about it, the better. These organizations in Ghana are incredibly ceremonially lame horses who have displayed gross incompetence in managing the affairs of their populace or even standing up for us when the need arises. It will interest the reader of this article to note that materials we use in learning are at an all-time high and some of our colleagues are simply unable to acquire them. The white cane which is used in aiding our mobility is hovering around fifty Ghana cedis while a packet of braille sheets is around sixty cedis. If really there was any semblance of engagements between disability organizations and government, then their topmost priority should have been scrapping the import levies which government has imposed on our learning materials so that they will be affordable. The mere fact that very few schools are practicing inclusion is evidence enough that our country is not willing to fully implement the ideology. There are only six tertiary institutions which practice inclusion and these comprise three universities and three colleges of education. It therefore, follows that any person with impairment who is academically inept has no other opportunity of making it in life since none of the technical universities are inclusive. This is discrimination engendered by government reticence and societal apathy In issues affecting persons with impairments. 

The picture I am painting in this article should not be construed by readers that the society is solely responsible for the deplorable state of some persons with impairments though the plight of persons with impairments has somewhat exacerbated even with the advent of inclusion as a mode of alleviating the plight of this minority group. Apart from the institutionalized discrimination that we face as a minority group, there is yet another devastating and notoriously perilous form of discrimination which is even more lethal than the former exhaustively discussed above. This is known as internalized discrimination. It refers to our programming through language to see ourselves as unworthy of life’s benevolence and not even equal to other people in the society simply due to the fact that we are biologically different from them. I.E. our impairments make us unequal to others. This psychological state I must concede is the cause of the wretchedness that some of our colleagues have submerged themselves. For them, having any form of impairment means one cannot make ends meet in life hence the only option available is to sue for alms along the streets. Unfortunately, this has continued to perpetuate society’s obnoxious attitude towards us and the stereotypical way of regarding us has still dominated many minds. It is for this reason that I call on our colleagues who have taken to begging to earn a living to get off the streets and halt this mammoth disservice they are doing to all of us as we labour to secure our rightful places in the world. They must realize that nobody’s fingers are all thumbs and as such there is something they can do for a living other than begging. Though discrimination against us in virtually every sphere of life is a direct unpleasant reality, Today, I want to make it aptly clear in the most unadulterated language to the world that we are not afraid to be seen and the world should not assume they can tell us who we are. The world must know they do not tell us who we are, but we tell you who we are and we are proud of whom we are. 

In drawing the curtain down, I want to reiterate my call to the government to as a matter of urgency deal expeditiously with the inclusion process so that many persons with impairments can have access to their dream schools. Again, logistics needed to facilitate learning should be subsidized so that we can afford them in order to advance our education. This country still has a long way to go in making it truly inclusive and it will take enthusiasm and passion for any government to attain this goal. Even though we still encounter monumental obstacles in our quest to get educated, we remain unfaced and we are still highly optimistic that we will be able to surmount them and hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope and confidence.

 It shall be hard, and we must be prepared to never stumble or even relent in fighting for recognition and equity and inclusivity as enshrined in the new curriculum framework which was designed by the Ghana education service. I have unflinching faith that the government can live up to the true meaning of equity and inclusivity for wherever there is a will, there is a way.


By Elias Kodelogo.

Email: eliaskodelogo1@gmail.com

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