By Hannah N. Geterminah
According to the population census performed in Liberia in 2008, People Living with disabilities (PWD)represent 14% of the country’s total population. This number has increased massively over the last 13 years since the census was conducted.
As the number increases nothing much has been done to empower PWD that will positively change their lives.
They are often marginalized and discriminated against, making it hard to access the education system, the job market, and health services according to Humanity and Inclusion.
As government comes and goes the welfare of people living with disabilities has been poorly attended to as a result, they are usually seen in various street corners of Monrovia or other counties begging just to pass the day.
As people living with disabilities hope for better living conditions during the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration, they massively voted for President George M. Weah who came to power in 2017 introducing the “pro-poor agenda for prosperity and development.
People living with disability, the poorest of the poor felt that this was redemption for them but sadly, there is no or limited budgetary allotment for them.
Most of the support or empowerment received by PWD is from donors’ funding.
2021/2022 proposed budget has US$700,000.000 allocated by the National Commission on Disable (NCD).
President Weah’s annual State of the Nation Address to the legislature and the people of Liberia, as indicated in Article 58 of the Constitution of Liberia had no line that include PWD.
There was no report about the gains made by the government or how they hope to seek the well-being of PWD in the year 2022.
There was no sign language interpreter as a means to create room for people who have speech impairment to understand the president’s messages to the country.
Speaking to a source at the NCD, The Stage Media was informed that the current budgetary allotment is the highest money ever in the history of Liberia provided for the commission since it was established but said it was done to receive PWD votes since next year is an electoral year.
The source said, ” if the president had PWD in mind, he could have included them in his speech and even plead with the Senate to pass the budget so that the commission speedily but people show their true color unknowingly.”
According to a TSM source, after the appointment of the current NCD chair Ambassador Daintowon Pay-Bayee, President Weah called for a national summit aimed at developing a roadmap for people with disability which brought together diplomats including the U.S embassy, and other development partners.
The source said the summit was successful but the implementation has remained a serious challenge.
Beyan G. Kota, president of the Christian Association of the Blind in a brief WhatsApp interview told TSM that in December of 2021, the government organized a summit that was well attended by both present Weah and development partners that give birth to recommendations requesting PWD to have access to inclusive education, empowerment, the use of the white cane, the establishment of the legislative caucus and representation of PWD at both houses and the ensure that the rights of disabling are respected but unfortunately, he (President Weah) a month after summit delivered a 70-page speech without including a single line about PWD.
Kota said the right to freedom of information also covers PWD as such, functions like the SONA and other public functions must include sign language interpreters to enable people with speech implements to have access to the information provided by national leaders.
“The President is not using the FOI law and this is time we as advocates change our approach if we must get the necessary things done for every citizen equally. If this must result in public action then we must send the right message across,” Kota said.
Kota said, “This should also be applied to every session of both houses of the legislature but again if we had representation, I think all of these things could be looked through their intervention.”
Kota said being excluded during such an important speech by the president only shows how the government has neglected PWD.
At least twenty-four (24) disabled people
organizations (DPOs) and five (5) government line ministries 2018 signed a joint resolution seeking the inclusion of persons living with disabilities in the country’s governance process.
“We, members and officials from 24 disabled people organizations (DPOs); the Alliance for Disabilities; 5 government line ministries (Public Works, Education, Gender, Justice, and Health); and other institutions concerned with the rights and welfare of persons living with disabilities (PWDs) realizing the need for concerted national efforts to promote the welfare of PWDs throughout the length and breadth of Liberia in line with the Liberian Constitution, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Liberia signed and ratified in 2012 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” the DPOs stated in the joint resolution.
The group also adopted a five-year National Action Plan for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities as a National Document to promote the welfare and rights of persons with disabilities throughout Liberia.