Ever since Malawi ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2009, government has made strides in promoting the inclusion and active participation of persons with disabilities on an equal basis.
Since then, we have witnessed relevant achievements on the national level, namely the enactment of the Disability Act of 2012 and the adoption of the National Disability mainstreaming strategy, among others.
Globally, the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a clear mandate of leaving no one behind, including those with disabilities is an important reminder of the tasks ahead.
As a country, we will fail to achieve the new international development agenda if we don’t consider disability inclusion from the starting point. To advance towards development that is inclusive of all, the UNCRPD and the SDGs should be used as mutually reinforcing tools.
This year’s theme of the disability month, the future is accessible, brings a great opportunity to address the structural challenges faced by persons with disabilities when it comes to accessibility. Consideration should be given both to the human rights and development dimensions to make sure persons with disabilities are not, once again, left behind. Therefore, the disability month which falls under this period involves activities and advocacy work from various stakeholders so that they should strive to focus on this theme as set aside by the UN.
The future is accessible means that we must all, together, look towards a future where the barriers which stand in people’s way no longer exist. We envisage a future where people can access a building without using stairs; where a person can access a ramp; or can get a job without fear of discrimination; or can access a mainstream classroom in an education setting, access to information and communication.
The disability month stands by its conviction that a person is not inherently ‘disabled’ as disability is not a feature of a person. We say that people have health impairments: some of us need wheelchairs to move; some of us need assistive technology—just like some of us need glasses to read; or medication to manage pain; or an inhaler to manage asthma.
Working towards an accessible future is everyone’s responsibility. Therefore, it is the duty of everyone to create a future which demands that people are not excluded because of their health impairments and to call out barriers wherever you see them, and work with us to overcome them. This is very important as it contributes a clear overview of the main issues at stake.
The government, disabled people’s organisations, civil society organisations and the private sector have a role to play in ensuring that accessibility is not an afterthought but a central component of their work.
The disability month also provides guidance on how to address the accessibility lack, in a simple way supporting policy makers in designing solutions for all from the start. It is important to stress once again that there are no excuses to leaving persons with disabilities behind; our recognition as equal members of society will bring prosperity to all and cities that are respectful and safe for all humans.
Through the Nation Disability Mainstreaming strategy of 2018-2023, the Malawi Government is committed that the future is accessible to services by persons with disabilities in the following key priority areas: access to health services, access to education, access means to livelihoods, empowerment, social inclusion and cross-cutting issues: gender; accessibility; research; HIV and Aids; children and youth with disabilities, climate change and disaster risk management.
In this regard, government’s main responsibility is to provide public goods and services as well as a regulatory framework. These include measures for accessing transport facilities and infrastructure, education, health and other social services by persons with disabilities.
Government should also safeguard the interests of all Malawians by addressing identified challenges to inclusive development through a review of relevant policy, legal and regulatory frameworks. In addition, the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS III) priority area number two: education and skills development complements this year’s theme- the future is accessible.