By Lizzy Okoji
The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have urged stakeholders to implement policies and action plans to ensure more inclusion of Persons with Disabilities for more effective participation in the society.
They advocated for this on Thursday, during the virtual commemoration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, organized by the ECOWAS Commission.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that this year’s commemoration is titled: “From COVID-19 Towards a Sustainable and Resilient ECOWAS for All Persons with Disabilities; Leave No One Behind.”
Dr Siga Jagne, ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, said that ECOWAS Commission urged stakeholders to ensure that all areas of their works consider the inclusion of persons with disabilities for their effective participation in communicating.
Jagne said that stakeholders’ works should also reflect institutional and personal commitments of Persons with Disabilities and further coordinate to guarantee their dignity and rights which are fundamental.
“The ECOWAS Commission plays a strategic goal in promoting social inclusion in the region.
“It is worth mentioning that the Commission has initiated a Regional Study on disability inclusion in the ECOWAS region which will culminate in the formulation of a Regional Action Plan on Disability.
“The rights of persons with disabilities have gained more recognition than ever before in recent times, and especially within the ECOWAS space, particularly in the areas of education and sports,” she said.
She also said that the commemoration of Disability Day is one of the platforms the Commission is utilizing to ensure that action is taken to mainstream disability into development planning in the region.
“There are areas which need more improvement, such as public transport, public health services and other accessibility services to enable persons with different disabilities to enjoy their human rights the same way as persons without disabilities.
“Some of the critical areas of improvement include physical accessibility, usability, personal communication and access to information,” Jagne said.
She noted that the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing the extent of exclusion and highlighting that work on disability inclusion is overbearing.
She explained that Physical distancing and movement restrictions implemented, including lock downs, gathering restrictions and night-time curfews, meant that different arrangements have to be made for persons living with disabilities.
This, she said, is very necessary, as Persons with Disabilities rely on personal assistants’ services to continue living their daily lives with the support they need.
Mr Lefhoko Kesamang, Representative of the African Union Commission, said that there will be no sustainable development in ECOWAS unless Persons with disabilities are taken on board.
Kesamang said the African Union, realizing the importance of inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the society, would developed the Africa disability architecture.
He said the framework was developed to drive the issues of disability; Disability rights in Africa and welfare of persons with disability in Africa to the Africa we want and to the ECOWAS of the People.
“The African Union developed policies which we have shared with ECOWAS and we are looking forward to ensure that we support ECOWAS to develop their own policies.
“The first policy, the African Union Disability Strategic Framework which was adopted in 2019, is the overacting policy of the African Union on how to deal with disability rights and inclusion across the continent.
“Almost equivalent of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and we also have the protocol which has been signed in only seven countries and we are looking forward for it to be ratified.
“And we are looking forward to the support and collaboration of ECOWAS to ensure that all Member States ratify this protocol so that it comes to force,” Kesamang said.
Mrs Adedoyin Beyioku-Alase, President, Deaf Women Association of Nigeria, said that the disability community is faced with a lot of challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic and protocols have even made things more difficult for them.
Beyioku-Alase, however, urged for legislation that would ensure more inclusion of persons with disabilities in the society.