Although there is still a long way to go, the rights-based approach used by the government to build an inclusive society in which people with disabilities can thrive should be commended, members of different organisations of people with disabilities have said. Speaking at the commencement of the one-week outreach activities that included the International Day of People with Disabilities, the Head of the Rwanda Union of Little People, Marie Appoline Buntubwimana said that although there has been a positive shift in how people with disabilities are being included, a lot has to be done to achieve the country’s vision to ‘leave no one behind.’ The activities, supported by a partnership between Health Development Initiative (HDI) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) seek to sensitise the People With Disabilities on their reproductive health, sexual safety and their rights to reproductive health information and services. Speaking at the event, the Coordinator of the National Council of People with Disabilities (NCPD) in Nyamasheke District was joined by other participants to point out the ten priority gaps and challenges that need to be addressed to ensure full inclusion of persons with disabilities in the national development agenda. 1. Need for a census Uwineza explained that the last census pertaining to people with disabilities was done in 2012. At the time, the census concluded that there were 446,453 people with disabilities nationwide. Of these, 221,150 were male and 225,303 female. In Nyamasheke district alone, there are 10,912. Uwineza explained that in the last ten years, these numbers have increased, and a fresh count would support planning purposes. “It has been ten years and obviously, there must be changes. We would like a fresh census that will enable us to know how to plan and budget for people with disabilities better and in a timely manner,” he said. 2. Stigma Uwineza reminded that disability continues to be a persistently sensitive issue in some communities. He explained that some families still attach disability to shame and as a result, they choose to keep the family members with disabilities hidden or locked up in their home. “We appeal for countrywide advocacy and sensitisation drives which will ensure that families understand that every child or adult with disability is a human being that can also go to school, visit a doctor and enjoy other basic rights as freely as every other citizen,” he said. 3. Access to services A significant number of people with disabilities continue to face challenges related to accessing services due to barriers posed by venues that are not inclusive, making it difficult for them to access the premises. Some of these premises include buildings that were built before guidelines favouring people with disabilities came into force. “We request that these buildings are reviewed, and the infrastructure updated while we also call upon One Stop Centers that provide construction permits to include a clause that requires new buildings to facilitate accessibility for everyone,” he said. Additionally, the Rwanda Union of the Blind Advocacy Officer, Jean Pierre Nshimiyumukiza, pointed out challenges related to accessing braille equipment where those who live upcountry are required to travel long distances to access such equipment. “If I have a speech to deliver, I am required to travel from Nyamasheke District to Masaka School of the Blind in Kicukiro District to access equipment to write a simple document. This is not only costly, but also time consuming,” he said. Many school facilities were also said not to be favourable for students as many are required to get out of their wheelchairs and crawl into the toilets, which is unhygienic and inconveniencing for many and as a result, many choose to drop out. 4. Availability of prosthetics Uwineza commended the government for making it easier for people with albinism to access sunscreen body lotions and creams at subsidised prices and conveniently. However, he appealed for similar efforts to be invested in supporting people with disabilities who need prosthetic and orthopedic equipment to aid their movements to pick them from their health centers instead of district hospitals. 5. Lack of employment Although the government has invested resources into ensuring that people with disabilities can go to school, there are still challenges when they complete their education and go seeking employment. Uwineza reminded that Rwanda is a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which saw the State commit to promoting the employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector through appropriate policies, which may include affirmative action programmes and incentives. He pointed out that although Rwanda has progressive laws, implementation is still a challenge. “It was suggested that the government would offer a five percent income tax discount to any employer in the private sector who ensures that five percent of his or her staff are people with disabilities. This deduction would be channeled to the people with disabilities fund. However, this is not being done. We have progressive laws and policies, but we continue to struggle with implementation,” he said.