PLWDs and exclusion: The hard questions

You have an electronic bank card and money on your account; you walk up to any ATM, insert your card and walk away with money in hand with no hustle at all.

You have an electronic bank card and money on your account; you walk up to any ATM, insert your card and walk away with money in hand with no hustle at all.

But if you are visually impaired, you have to entrust someone else with your PIN number to be able to withdraw the money and worse still, you will have to depend on your guide to put the amount of money that you want to withdraw.

ATM machines are not fitted with braille technology to allow for those with visual impairment a measure of independence for something so fundamental to personal wellbeing; access to one’s own money.

Persons Living With Disabilities (PLWDs), despite –particularly in this country – laws that both advance and protect their interests, are still excluded and stigmatised. PLWDs include a large swathe of vulnerable people.

They range from people afflicted by congenital disorders, debilitating disease, economic poverty, victims of accidents and even ex-combatants. The Rwanda 2012 Population Census put the number of PLWDs at 4.2% of the population.

A British Shadow lawmaker, Kate Green, on a visit to Rwanda last month, commended the progressive and inclusive policies for people with disabilities in Rwanda but was quick to tell her colleagues and activists that insufficient resources for PLWDs was not a situation unique to Rwanda but a fate shared by PLWDs in the UK.

Norway and Iceland, two Nordic countries that are often at the top of global indices measuring human well-being, continue to have debates about the exclusion of those different from the norm.

Using the example of children born with down syndrome, the debate takes on a sophisticated course of argument.

Down syndrome can result in a combination of health problems, intellectual and learning disability and delays in development. Breakthroughs in genetic testing allows for pregnant women to know the likelihood of their child developing down syndrome.

What has been observed is that there are now fewer children born with this disability. Some members of these societies now ask the difficult question of where exclusion begins.

Different PLWDs need different levels of care and support.

Those with severe physical, mental or other handicaps may require inordinate number of support structures. Yet, talking to caregivers, who are family members at times, reveals unexpected insights.

Such caregivers may report experiencing great joy at the interactions they have with their suffering family member. What also emerges is the often substantial financial demands associated with providing the PLWD the level of care and well-being necessary.

While love and care are crucial, financial support can be what makes the difference between death and survival of PLWDs. When human rights activists in Rwanda talk about insufficient funds for PLWDs, there is cause for real concern.

The question of what gets funded and how and why provides the back story to the francs and sense of it all. In Economics 101, we learn that cute, furry animals (hair is important) like baby gorillas, are more likely to get funding than other animals considered less cuddly.

This is true even if the less cuddly animal is under greater risk of extinction.

When economics is seen in the light of the “cuddle-index”, it becomes clear that it is not always logic nor need that defines where our monies go. It becomes obvious that we in Rwanda, or in other parts of the world need to have those difficult conversations.

Who is the “Other”? Who will we include and who will we exclude?

Do we deny equitable education opportunities to our physically challenged children because the existing school systems are not designed to be inclusive? Do we exclude technological innovations such as mobile money from the hands of PLWDs?

Do we throw stones, literally or figuratively at those with mental disorders, in essence holding them responsible for their inept, inappropriate or even dangerous, behaviours?

Importantly, are the economically challenged members of our society denied access to health, nutrition or even shelter because their contributions to society are deemed to have no financial value?

The time may indeed be nigh to have those difficult conversations.

The writer is passionate about people, organizations and countries whose stories create a chrysalis for ideas.



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