July 15, 2024

Timothy Egwelu

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By Egwelu Timothy

Following the aftermath of Covid-19 and the inaccessible television format the media produced, authorities in Uganda organised a policy consultation through Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs).

Despite the DPOs’ willingness to contribute to the talks in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was difficult for them to understand and navigate the complicated regulatory landscape. Such inaccessible formats presented a significant obstacle to their effective participation in policymaking, highlighting the pressing need for increased accessibility and inclusivity measures in Uganda.

Including DPOs in developing policies is essential to creating an inclusive and accessible society. However, merely having representation in consultations alone is insufficient to address the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in mainstream policies and systems.

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As a first step towards inclusion and meaningful participation, accessibility to all mainstream policies, procedures, and services must be addressed. Consultations with DPOs do not merely guarantee that the guidelines will meet the needs and preferences of people with disabilities. For this reason, it is crucial to ensure that all mainstream policies and systems are made accessible as a first step towards meaningful participation.

In South Africa, due to the effects of Section 27 of the Copyright Act, 99.5% of published books, such as law books and related material, are not available in accessible formats such as even though the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and its reporting procedures require governments to remove all obstacles to information access- this continues to be the case.

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Data from the World Federation of the Deaf indicates that 92% of countries in African countries haven’t legally recognised their sign languages which leaves doubt about the availability of accessible laws in sign language in these countries.

Accessibility is a fundamental prerequisite for inclusion and participation. Without accessibility, people with disabilities face barriers that prevent them from accessing essential services, facilities, and information. They are excluded from mainstream society, and their voices are not heard or considered in policy development.

Therefore, governments and institutions must proactively ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to mainstream policies, systems, and services. This includes providing accessible communication, transportation, education, healthcare, employment opportunities, and other essential services.

Furthermore, regardless of the sector, policymakers must ensure that accessibility is considered from the outset of policy development and implementation. They must engage people with disabilities and their representative organizations in meaningful consultation to understand their needs, preferences, and priorities.

However, accessibility alone is not enough to achieve meaningful participation. Policymakers must also ensure that people with disabilities can engage in the policy process, voice their opinions, and influence decision-making. This includes providing accessible venues, information, formats, and technologies to facilitate their participation.

To conclude, the participation of persons with disabilities in policy development is crucial for a truly inclusive and accessible society. However, it is only possible when mainstream policies, systems, and services are made accessible in the first place. Governments and institutions must prioritize accessibility to create a level playing field and ensure meaningful participation.

Egwelu Timothy is a lawyer and a disability policy consultant.

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