10/12/2014 11:20

From exclusion to inclusion – realising the rights of persons with disabilities

By Gabriel Kuman of the Melanesian Institute in Goroka.

International Disability Day falls on every fifth day of December each year. Today, the 5th of December, 2014 marks another day to appreciate the presence and gifts of each of our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who acquired some form of disabilities either through birth or by accidents and are living with us in our our communities.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about fifteen percent of the world’s populations are living with some form of impairments. In Papua New Guinea (PNG) it is estimated that about 975,000 people are living with disabilities. Of this group about two percent have access to some form of services such as health, education and employment. This means the bulk of the populations (98%) with disabilities are not receiving any form of government services. With the lack of surveillance, monitoring, evaluation and proper statistical database systems it is difficult to know the exact distribution of populations with disabilities throughout PNG. The country’sdifficult geographical settings such as deep terrains, mountains, fast flowing rivers and thick bushes as well as scattered isolated islands, poor communication infrastructure and unsealed road network systems have made it extremely difficult to bring needed social services such as health, rehabilitation, education and employment to people living with disabilities. These were some important messages delivered by the principal for Mt. Sion Centre for the Blind in Goroka.

People with disabilities are not a homogenous group of people. Disability covers a broad range of people ranging from infants, children, teenagers, adults and elderly of both male and female. It also comes in a variety of forms and differs from person to person such as physical, sensory and emotional and learning difficulties.

In a very emotional speech by one of the disabled persons, he said, “It has been a long struggle for us persons with disabilities that we were left out in the dark, suffering silently not knowing when to come out of our hibernation. Who will come to aid, to support and relieve us from our pain? Who will assist us to reach our destiny in life, as we all know that we are all equal in the eyes of this wonderful creation?” He reiterated that “We are all created equal in the image and likeness of God as co-creators and co-partners to cooperatively work together to enhance a better living and a better society that is free from all forms of violence, stigma and discrimination.”

The status of people with disabilities still remains low and their voices unheard.Structural factors such as socio-cultural norms about disability continue to affect the health and well-being of people with disabilities and their opportunities to participate in societal activities limited.

There is a felt need for more resources and disability advocacy awareness initiatives on disability rights issues in the country. This will increasethe likelihood for persons with disabilities to actively participate in community life and to develop and demonstrate individual capabilities. This is because many people with disabilities need support through empowerment to enable them to express themselves and to stand up for their rights. In his speech, the principal for Mt. Sion Centre for the Blind reiterated that Mt. Sion Centre for the Blind and the Eastern Highlands Provincial Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs) should do more awareness and advocacy to help people with disabilities to achieve their full potentials, reintegrate into society, and find access to facilities and resources while in collaboration with all levels of Governments and all other service delivery organisations in the country.

The speaker representing people with disability concluded that from exclusion to inclusion it is only the beginning of this society to realise the rights of persons with disability. He invited us to partner and work together to fight for the rights of persons with disability and to create an inclusive and barrier free society for all.