Last weekend, I went to visit an elderly relative who had been hospitalised at a private hospital in a town in the Eastern Region.
The octogenarian, who has severe mobility issues, was on the third floor of the medical facility, which has neither a ramp nor lift. Many of the patients in the male ward where my relative had been admitted also had difficulties moving, and could not have climbed on their own.
I asked one of the nurses about how my relative managed to get to the top floor. It turned out that it took almost an hour of discomfort for the patient and his carriers to carry him in his wheelchair step by step to the third floor.
According to the nurse who explained this to me, it takes much longer to carry patients who are in even more critical conditions.
The difficulties which my aged relative had to endure just to get to the male ward brings into sharp relief the challenges faced by people with disabilities (PWDs) and the elderly in our country.
The hospital in question is not alone in not providing ramps and lifts for its patients and visitors. It is obvious that people with physical disabilities would simply not be able to visit their loved ones on admission at the ward where my relative was housed.
I wonder why a medical facility at the level of the one I am talking about was licensed to start a business without access for people with disabilities and the elderly.
Hospitals and clinics should be on the frontline when it comes to respecting the rights of persons with disabilities and the elderly.
It is sad and ironic that vulnerable people still face such challenges nearly two decades after legislation was enacted to promote the rights of PWDs.
Like many countries around the world, Ghana has recognised the rights of persons with disabilities through legislation. The Persons with Disability Act, enacted in 2006, aims to promote and protect the rights and welfare of individuals with disabilities.
While the law is a positive step forward, it is evident that persons with disabilities in Ghana still face various difficulties and challenges in their daily lives.
As I have described above, access to public spaces and infrastructure remains a significant challenge for persons with disabilities in Ghana.
Despite the law’s requirement for accessibility, few public places in Ghana have taken the trouble to comply with the law.
Equally, public transport of all sorts has shown little or no readiness to enable PWDs to travel independently, if at all.
It is the same for shops, markets, schools, and recreational facilities such as theatres, churches, and mosques.
This lack of accessibility is not only about physical barriers; it also limits their ability to participate in society fully, access education, find employment, and enjoy social and cultural activities.
Education, a fundamental right for all individuals, is a major area of concern. Although the law mandates inclusive education, many schools in Ghana lack the necessary accommodations and resources to support students with disabilities.
We lack specialised schools and teaching facilities for PWDs, and the few we have are severely under-resourced.
Facilities in secondary and higher education for PWDs are almost nonexistent. My former school, Okuapemman School, is one of the few schools that offer facilities for visually impaired students, and there are a few other places offering places to people with different forms of disability.
However, generally, limited access to assistive devices, specialised training for teachers and accessible learning materials hinder equal education opportunities.
As a result, many children with disabilities are excluded from mainstream educational institutions, leading to limited educational and employment prospects in the future.
Employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in Ghana are severely limited. The unemployment rate among this group is significantly higher than the national average.
Many face discrimination and prejudice from employers who may have misconceptions about their capabilities.
Even those who can find work have to negotiate many obstacles and challenges in getting to and from work, as well as performing their tasks at work. PWDs often find discrimination in housing as well.
The worst part of this is that there appears to be a limited understanding of disability rights in this country, and this is contributing hugely to the disparity in access and resources.
It is not even clear whether PWDs themselves fully understand their rights; as a result, individuals with disabilities are often marginalised and struggle to live fulfilling lives in society.
As it occurred to me last weekend, a person with a physical disability whose relative is on that third floor cannot have even the emotional satisfaction of visiting the latter.
To make matters worse, societal attitudes and stigma towards persons with disabilities persist as a barrier to their inclusion and participation.
Deep-rooted prejudices and misconceptions perpetuate discrimination and hinder efforts to create an inclusive society.
Many individuals with disabilities experience social isolation and exclusion, leading to the erosion of their self-esteem and mental well-being.
While the Persons with Disability Act provides a legal framework for the rights and welfare of persons with disabilities, its implementation and enforcement remain inadequate.
A lack of awareness and understanding of the law among both policymakers and the general public contributes to this gap. Insufficient resources, poor coordination among agencies, and a lack of political will also hinder effective implementation.
To address these difficulties, Ghana must prioritise and invest in the disability sector. It is crucial to allocate sufficient resources to improve accessibility, provide inclusive education and promote employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Public awareness campaigns and sensitisation programmes should be implemented to foster a more inclusive society and combat stigma.
Additionally, some facilities, such as hospitals and other health facilities, must, as a matter of law, provide access to disabled people.
We can implement this by ensuring that there is effective policy implementation, monitoring and evaluation by the appropriate agencies.
While Ghana has taken steps forward in recognising the rights of persons with disabilities, significant challenges persist, as was seen above. Promoting the rights of PWDs will also assist many elderly people in their everyday lives because PWDs and elderly persons share some challenges.
This is the reason why we must all support PWDs and fight for their rights. Because as we grow old, the facilities and resources provided for PWDs will also benefit the elderly in society.