After 13 years of its enactment, SLUDI calls for full implementation of PWDS Act of 2011

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By Francis Ndanema

The Persons with Disability (PWDs) Act of 2011 made several provisions for the enjoyment of the rights of PWDs. Part five, section 14 to 30 of the Act gives PWDs entitlement to free tertiary education, free medical services, employment rights, barrier free environment, access to public transportation, and participation in sport and recreation. The PWDs Act also mandates government to set up disability issues units, make public buildings accessible and to establish a National Disability Fund. PWDs are however not enjoying majority of these rights even though it is now thirteen years since the law was legislated.

The President of the Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI), Santigie Kargbo said PWDs in tertiary institutions are still struggling to enjoy free tertiary education, despite promises made by the government to solve the problem. In 2017, SLUDI in collaboration with Media Watch and other Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) initiated an advocacy campaign against the decision of the Ministry of Education to refuse ten PWDs out of the twenty – seven that entered Fourah Bay College (FBC) that year scholarship. In 2018, about 30 students with disability from the Freetown Teachers College (FTC), Kono District were denied access to their final educational certificate. With the intervention of SLUDI, their results were released to them. They were denied because, FTC alleged that government did not pay their fees. SLUDI worked with Media Watch and other OPDs to use several advocacy methods that made the government to negotiate with tertiary institutions to stop demanding fees and other charges from PWDs in 2018. This privilege was enjoyed till 2022. Last year, over twenty PWDs of FBC reported to the Union that they were asked to pay extra charges by the University or risked not writing their exams. The college stated in a notice that the demand for extra charges was in line with a recent policy on Free Tertiary Education circulated by the Ministry of Technical and Tertiary Education. The Students with Special Needs of FBC and other OPDs had to embark on several advocacy campaigns before the government and the tertiary institutions allowed them to attend lectures and write exams. The advocacy strategies did not however succeed in making universities waive graduation fees for students with disability who graduated this year. They all paid close to a £100 pounds for graduation, which was waived in 2022. 

SLUDI and other OPDs have received several complaints from PWDs that, government hospitals are demanding that they should pay for health care services.

In 2018, a social worker for a disability focused organization, One Family People, Salamatu Lagga took a speech and hearing impairment lady, Ramatu Kamara to Connaught Government Hospital to defend her disability because she was initially denied free health care since she could not prove her disability. In a recent discussion with PWDs at the Cotton Tree in Freetown, SLUDI was told that the free health care service is not enjoyed by PWDs. SLUDI employed a volunteer in 2019 whose duty was to take PWDs to Connaught Government Hospital to access free health care services. This did not however continue due to lack of funding to upgrade the volunteer to full staff of the union.  Early this year, a family member who spoke on anonymity accused the government hospital in Kailahun that they refused to admit her disable sister because she could not pay Le 800,000, approximately £40 that the hospital demanded which resulted in her death. The Kailahun Government Hospital has denied this claim.

Despite repeated calls for the creation of Disability Issues Unit, only few ministries and councils have created such units. Many public buildings still remain not accessible to PWDs, while graduates with disability are aimlessly walking on the street of Freetown without employment despite their qualifications.

Part of the reasons PWDs are not enjoying the privileges provided in the PWDs Act is due to the lack of Permanent Disability Certificates (PDCs). The enactment of the PWDs act gave birth to the National Commission for Persons with Disability (NCPD), which is mandated by Section 7(1)(a) of the PWDs Act to work with Sierra Leone’s Medical Board to issue PDC to citizens with disability.

In 2018, SLUDI in partnership with Media Watch launched a campaign for the issuance of PDCs to PWDs in Sierra Leone, which led to a meeting between PWDs represented by SLDI, Media Watch and NCPD, and Sierra Leone’s Medical Board. Few weeks after the meeting, NCPD held regional engagement with OPDs to develop a screening tool for the certification of PWDs. After the Regional engagements with OPDs on the screening process, SLUDI and its partners made several inquiries for the progress which was at a very slow pace.

The Executive Secretary of NCPD, Sahr Lamin Kortequee, said UNICEF is funding the piloting of the screening process and certification of PWDs in two districts this year.

While he urged the government to keep to its commitment to making PWDs enjoy all the provisions of their 2011 act, the President of SLUDI appreciated the government for the direct cash transfers, listening to the Union and easing the burdens of PWDs in tertiary institutions, and the proclamation that government hospitals should provide free health care services for disable patients. He however urged government to address many challenges still facing the free health care and tertiary education for people with disabilities. 

SLUDI is urging the government to make funding available to the commission to do the screening and certification process in the other districts so that PWDs will maximally benefit from privileges entail in their act.

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