Monday, April 22, 2024

Despite The Disability Act, Gambia Woefully Discriminates Visually Impaired Pupils

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By: Alimatou S Bajinka

The Gambia Organisation for the Visually Impaired (GOVI) is the only blind school in the greater Banjul area. The institution for the blind operates as a special needs school which currently has 50 students; all of them, visually impaired.

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According to the Executives Director of the school, Mr Lamine Colley, the institution provides complete sponsorship and scholarship packages for all its students which include all costs related to their education, transportation, school uniforms, feeding and other needs.

“The equipment for the visually impaired people is very expensive and their parents cannot afford them; GOVI provides them along with most of the resources needed for their education,” he said.

He also states that the government could do more to help the school, revealing that the only thing the government currently does is pay salaries for teachers and some support staff.

Colley regretted the fact that the school can only provide basic education due to lack of capacity, and also noted that it was high time The Gambia initiated the necessary policies, programmes and social protection measures to help and empower children with visual impairment.

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Former visually impaired student of GOVI, Miss Fatima Joof, said discrimination was and is still the order of the day in the lives of visually impaired persons.

“For us discrimination was and it is still the order of the day, we have been left out in so many ways. GOVI is the only blind school in the country, and learning facilities should not have been a hindrance to our education.”

She added that the Government and power-holders in the country have a key instrument to fulfilling their rights, tackling discrimination and other issues they face, and running an inclusive effort to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for all, without leaving people with disabilities behind.

In the same vein, Mr Bubacarr Sanneh, a former student at GOVI shared his experience, while attesting to the inadequate learning material when he was still a student there.

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“My experience in GOVI was a good one. Despite the lack of adequate modern learning facilities for the blind, the school was like home to me and many of my fellow visually impaired colleagues.

It was not only an academic institution for us but we were able to have a good relationship amongst ourselves as well as our teachers.”

Mr Sanneh is currently at MDI studying Diplomacy and International Relations. He said there is a need for government to do more, confirming that he had gone through discrimination while in high school.

“There was the lesser special treatment accorded to me during my days in high school as a student, despite the little support from the Government and philanthropies, I feel there is a need for more. We suffer inadequate learning materials such as textbooks that are written in braille, which really make our learning stressful. Subjects like science and science-related subjects in most cases the questions are not blind-friendly and these are questions that carry more marks which sometimes result to a gap between us and our fellow students in the Schools.”

Babucar is also visually impaired, he laments the Disability Act and the need for implementation.

“The Government should note that passing the bill is just one step and now that we have passed that step, more efforts should be invested in implementation and advocacy to make the act popular and also to note that no one should be left behind, everyone should be involved, and provided for without discrimination.”

Binta Mendy, a grade five student at GOVI also lamented the paucity of required tools at the school.

“We cannot read and understand because our books are not written in braille. Writing is also very difficult for us because we do not have enough braille machines,” she said.

Mustapha Sanyang, another visually impaired student, believes vision is more than just the ability to see clearly.

“It is also the will to understand and respond to what is seen. I thus call on the government to assist us with braille machines to better our learning process.”

On the 6th of July 2021, The Gambia National Assembly passed the Persons with Disabilities Bill, announcing that President Adama Barrow had entered into force and thereby assented to the Bill on the 4th of August.

The Act provides for “the health care, social support, accessibility, rehabilitation, education and vocational training, communication, employment and work protection and promotion of basic rights for persons with disabilities and connected matters.”

This is a major step towards the fulfilment of the Gambia’s international obligation, especially to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the country ratified in July 2015.

The Gambia, having signed and ratified the convention, bears the responsibility of ensuring the “full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for persons with disabilities” in Gambia without discrimination, including by “modify[ing] or abolish[ing] existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination against persons with disabilities.”

The State is further required by the convention to “prohibit all discrimination on the basis of disability and guarantee equal and effective legal protection against discrimination on all grounds”.

Despite the guarantees of this Convention and the Gambian Constitution of 1997, which states that “all persons shall be equal before the law,” people with disabilities continue to face numerous barriers to their full inclusion and participation in the life of their communities in the Gambia.

The Disability Act is said to be a key step toward greater inclusion in society. This is however not the case in GOVI.

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