Two key events are taking place in the country this year. The on-going collection of views on the new Constitution and the forthcoming National Census on August 26.
People are hopeful that their lives will change for the better if the exercises will be well effected and the intended purposes well implemented.
While we all have different expectations, People with Disabilities (PWDs) look forward to getting a lot more from the exercises. Most PWDs continue to be discriminated against and denied of their rights to different social services such as health, access to information and education among others.
This time around, PWDs would like to be well involved in the two exercises. They want to speak for themselves on how they would like their issues be addressed in the new Constitution and during the census. They believe if their voices are heard, their lives will be improved.
A very recent study on the implementation of the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) shows that PWDs are among people living in the most dangerous conditions in Tanzania.
According to the survey, jointly undertaken by a university of Dar es Salaam lecturer, who is also disabled, Lucas Kija, and Clarence Kipobota, an advocate, most PWDs live in abject poverty, have low education, have no formal training and are not employed.
"They also suffer frequent abuse of their rights frequently done by the police, district officers and the legal system itself,” says the study.
A three-year Young Voices Disability Project under the Tanzania Cheshire Foundation launched last year is one of the PWDs’ advocacy groups currently fighting tooth and nail to see that the two exercises benefit PWDs as well. They want PWDs to fully participate in both exercises for their own development.
Dodoma project coordinator, Alex Mhando, says PWDs expect the census exercise to analyse them in terms of their different types of disability, their educational levels and employment status among others. He says the exercise should be able to come up with the exact number of PWDs currently estimated at 3.9 million. This will help in addressing their different needs.
Kija and Kipobota found in their study that Tanzania, with its over 40 million population, has no reliable data on the number of people with disabilities. However, the researchers say the number of PWDs is estimated at between 7.8 percent and 9 percent of the population.
Mhando advises the Constitutional Review Commission to reach all the PWDs in the country to get their views so they can be well involved in the constitution making process. He advises the commission to ensure it has sign language interpreters so that people with hearing impairments are not left behind in the democratic process. He also advises that the materials used in both the views seeking and census processes should also be printed in Braille for people with visual impairments.
Peter Mwita, the Morogoro project coordinator, thinks the two exercises would be successful if they involved sensitisation seminars. These he said would help to make people turn up en masse to participate in the processes.
Some parents hide their disabled children for various reasons and so the seminars would enlighten the parents on the importance for example of having them counted.
"Some parents or families don’t bring their children or disabled family members out during census exercises. They do so due to ignorance and this is why sensitisation seminars are very important,” Pascazia Yahya, a student at the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and a Young Voices member echoed the sentiment.
However, Mhando sees a light at the end of the tunnel as far as inclusion and consideration of people with disabilities in national matters are concerned. Slowly, some people are beginning to consider them in their plans, like when constructing buildings.
Some lifts in storey buildings in Dar es Salaam, for example, have elevators with devices that announce each floor number that the lift stops at. A good example is the Constitutional Review Commission’s building whose lift announces the floor numbers. This is very helpful, especially for people with visual impairment.
Mhando says the lift in this building also has enough space for a person with a wheel chair. “It also has toilets that are user friendly to persons with disabilities. We commend them for this,” says Mhando who hopes the same applies during the views collection exercise.
During a recent visit to the Constitutional Review Commission’s office, Alex and some colleagues got the opportunity to speak to the commission’s Deputy Secretary Casmir Kyuki, who assured them the exercise has put into consideration the needs of PWDs such as the presence of sign language interpreters and that important publications are also printed in Braille for those with visual impairments.
The Young Voices Disability Project has vowed to make follow up on this. They want to make sure PWDs use their democratic right to participate in the two processes.
At a recent workshop for persons with disabilities, the PWDs agreed to sensitise each other throughout the country to fully participate in the two important exercises. The Constitution Review and the national Census.