National Policies in their earlier versions paid only superficial attention to the concerns and needs of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs)
There is limited up to date statistics on disability prevalence in The Gambia. However, applying the global estimate that 10 percent of the population in any country are Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) at any given time indicates that there are about 150, 000 PWDs (10 percent of 1.5million) in the country.
Taking an average of 22 per 1000 (16 per 1000 from the 1998 National Disability Survey and 28 per1000 from the 2003 National Population Census), the number of PWDs in The Gambia would be approximately 33, 000, The Voice Newspaper’s Mafugi Ceesay reports on the prevalence of disability as per the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) Disability Guide 2010.
The magnitude of disability is a growing phenomenon in The Gambia noting the prevalence rate of 16 per thousand (1.6 percent) of the population, according to the figures of 1998 national disability survey, compared to 28 per thousand (2.8 percent) of the population from the National Population and Housing Census of April 2003. The gender differentials for males and females for the 1998 survey was 17.4 and 13.9 per 1000 respectively.
Physical mobility related disability constituted the highest national prevalence rate of 3.6 per 1000 population. The urban and rural prevalence rates were 12.5 and 17.6 per 1000 population respectively.
1, 310 (31 percent) out of the 4, 253 persons with disabilities enumerated in the 1998 National Disability Survey were children between 2-18 years of age. The main disability problem of these children was difficulty in speech which constituted 18.4 percent. Visual impairment and hard of hearing were also reported among children but were not as high as speech difficulties.
In any case, all the mentioned types of disabilities among children could negatively influence their educational opportunities if special services are not available to them. In 2003 population and housing census, visual impairment had the highest prevalence rate of 1.1 per hundred. This was followed in second place by physical impairment (0.6 per 100) and third by hearing impairment (0.4 per 100).
A number of policies were formulated in The Gambia between the 1990s and early 2000. These policies include the National Population Policy, National Family Planning Policy, National Health Policy, National Reproductive Health Policy, and National Policy on Advancement of Gambian Women, National Youth Policy, National Education Policy and the National Nutrition Policy.
“These initiatives, in their earlier versions, paid only superficial attention to the concerns and needs of persons with Disabilities. Most of these policies were mainly concerned with the protection and services for the general population but fell short specifically mentioning the special needs of Persons with Disabilities,” VSO said.
Over the years, the Department of Social Welfare, Education Department, VSO and Sight Savers in collaboration with Disability Persons Organisations (DPOs) have demonstrated workable strategies and programmes at macro or central level to address issues like rehabilitation, mainstream education, capacity building activities, empowering Persons with Disabilities and institutional building for enhanced service delivery.
Institutional frame work
There are eight DPOs that are registered with the National umbrella body for disability -Gambia Federation of the Disabled (GFD). These include Gambia Association of the Physically Disabled (GAPD); Gambia Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (GADHOH); Gambia Organization of the Visually Impaired (GOVI); Gambia Organisation for Learning Difficulties (GOLD); Gambia National Paralympics Committee (GNPC); Association for the Mentally Disabled of The Gambia (AMDG); National Union of Disabled Youths (NUDY); and Rural Support Organisation for the Disabled (RSOD).
Other DPOs that exist but are not members of the federation include: Foundation For Disabled People in The Gambia; Bundung Association of the Disabled and their Children (BADAC); Second Home Foundation; Hart House Home for Children with Learning Difficulties; and Save the Children with Learning Difficulties.
The VSO said the Government of The Gambia offers both moral and annual financial support to some of these DPOs through subventions, and help champion their cause in the quest for empowering and development of PWDs.
However, it said that as is in most developing countries, the Social Welfare Support System for persons with Disabilities in The Gambia is not well developed. Persons with disabilities are hence, in most cases, reliant on the support from within the family.
There is currently inadequate communication between the public service providers and the disabled community in The Gambia and this resulted in insufficient understanding of the needs of persons with disabilities among some service providers.
Key constraint of public service providers
The main problems of public service providers are that the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital (RVTH), is the main referral hospital for all conditions including disability. However, awareness of the existence of such services and the cost of the services could be a limiting factor to their utilizations by the rural poor especially women and hence many such cases can go undiagnosed.
The three special schools in The Gambia are also under-resourced and lack adequate capacities needed to ensure that all the needy students receive basic education. Nonetheless, VSO said all teachers in training at Gambia College are receiving input on Special Education as part of their curriculum and some in the special schools have also had training in this area, recently.
Children with disabilities in mainstream schools across the country used top be marginalized by both the teachers and other students, however, VSO said this attitude is fading as more skilled personnel are trained to deal with these special children.
The National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) is unable to cope with the high demand for its services and the needs of rural people who are too far away to access services. The centre is also currently unable to assist people with non-physical disabilities and leaves such support to the relevant DPOs.
With the above shortcomings, the VSO concluded that DPOs are in general “resource-constrained” which it added limits their capacities to provide adequate services to all members of their organisations. Hence supports from public service providers and government are crucial for DPOs to meet obligations to their members in spite of the problems.
There are also a number of children with disabilities in both the mainstream schools and special schools such as St John’s School for the Deaf and a Nursery School for Deaf Children run by GADHOH and a School for the Blind or Visually Impaired Children run by GOVI.
In addition, there is clearly a need to increase the visibility of public and private service providers to ensure the potential support they can offer is fully maximised. The 1998 National Disability Survey asked a sample of persons with Disabilities if they had heard of a variety of institutions and organisations that offer services to PWDs, including some of the DPOs.
Knowledge of these service providers and DPOs was very low-for example, only six percent of males and four percent of females with disabilities had heard of The Gambian Association of the Physically Disabled (GAPD), one of the partners in this project.
There is limited knowledge on services available for PWDs in The Gambia, yet still, their existence and locations are not well known to many people who need them. “A recent survey undertaken in 2008 showed that this is still true, demonstrating clearly the lack of public information available on the services available to support people with disabilities,” the VSO said.
The VSO Disability Guide, which is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, BLF Project, revealed that although The Government of The Gambia has not yet signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), some strides have been made in other areas.
There are provisions in Article 31 and 33 of The Gambian National Constitution of 1997, which provides for PWDs specially. Article 31 states that “The right of the disabled and handicapped to respect and human dignity shall be recognized by the State; Disabled persons shall be entitled to protection against exploitation and to protection against discrimination, in particular as regard to health services, education and employment;
In any judicial proceedings in which a disabled person is a party, the procedure shall take his or her account.”
Article 33 stated that “All persons shall be equal before the law; And subject to the provision of subsection (5), no law shall make any provision which is discriminatory manner either by itself or in its effect; No person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of any law or in the performance of the functions of any public office or any public authority.”
In this section, the expression discrimination means affording different persons attributable wholly or mainly to their respective descriptions by the race, colour, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status whereby persons of one such description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of another such description are not made subject, or are accorded privileges or advantages which are not accorded to persons of another such description.
The VSO acknowledges that the process for the development of a National Disability Policy by The Gambia Government began in 2008 and it is in its advanced stages of being adopted by Government. In addition, Gambian Plan of Action on the African Decade for Persons with Disabilities is in the process of being endorsed. Source – The Voice