The Cabinet’s approval of the policy aimed at promoting the full inclusion and participation of People with Disability (PwD) in all sectors of the Rwandan society has been welcomed by different stakeholders with many calling it ‘timely’.
The policy clearly outlines guidelines and spells out targets and priorities to address issues affecting people with disabilities, and promotes an inclusive, barrier-free, and a rights-based society.
Once implemented, it will have an immediate implication on legal framework, impact business and the economy as a whole and also reflect on equality, discrimination, unity and reconciliation.
Women with disabilities who play for the national sitting volleyball team celebrate a victory at Amahoro Stadium in 2019. Photo: Sam Ngendahimana.
The policy sets clear guidelines for ten ministries, all civil society organisations, the media and the National Institute of Statistics Rwanda (NISR) and calls for at least one focal person for disability in each of the institutions to liaise with the National Council for People with Disabilities (NCPD) on disability mainstreaming.
Reacting to the approval of the policy, MP Eugène Mussolini who represents People with Disabilities in the lower chamber of parliament welcomed the policy and said that it will give PwDs the dignity that most felt they didn’t have.
MP Eugène Mussolini who represents People with Disabilities in the Lower Chamber of Parliament. Photo: File.
“With the specific responsibilities each institution is tasked with, this will definitely help in categorising people with disabilities and knowing which ones need more support than others. I feel that we are going to see a shift because it is time for us to stop being treated as charity cases,” he said.
The Executive Director of the National Union of the Blind; Donatille Kanimba told The New Times in a telephone interview that the policy has been long overdue, calling the Cabinet’s approval a ‘step in the right direction’.
Kanimba explained that the pursuit of this policy has been ongoing for several years and is now welcome since it will streamline how PwDs access services.
“Obviously this is going to make a very big difference. It will for instance set up a platform for all government institutions to come in and make it easier for us to buy more equipment like wheel chairs that we need on a daily basis,” she said.
28 year old Marie-Antoinette Uwingabire has been using a wheelchair since she was involved in a car accident four years ago.
She says that she has had to put her plans to study journalism on hold due to the challenges that come with using a wheelchair in most buildings in Kigali. She hopes that this new policy will fix this.
“I had to learn how to use a wheelchair as an adult and that itself is a challenge but there are many places that I can’t access because the idea of wheelchair ramps is just recent. I am happy that there is now a policy because this could be the beginning of better things for us,” she said.
The Executive Secretary of the Rwanda Civil Society Platform, John Bosco Nyemazi told The New Times that the platform has over the years conducted a number of advocacy initiatives pushing for this policy and this is proof that the government listened.
He said that as a signatory to many international conventions that advocate for human rights, Rwanda should be commended for ‘not leaving anyone behind’.
“We work with more than 15 organisations linked to people with disabilities and we pledge our commitment towards walking alongside the government to provide our expertise to ensure that the policy delivers,” he said.
The policy is broken down into tasks with each institution given its deliverables.
For instance, the Ministry of Local Government will coordinate all the activities related to the policy, from development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and all disability-related services across the country.
However, it is also tasked with ensuring that people with disabilities are provided and facilitated with social protection services and to develop a national communication strategy to advocate for increased community awareness and sensitivity to equitable access to services for PwDs across all sectors.
The Ministry of Health was tasked with strengthening early detection, intervention, and rehabilitation of the PwDs and to ensure availability and affordability of assistive devices at subsided cost.
This ministry is also required to ensure that specialized medical services are available countrywide and to build the capacity of healthcare professionals in disability detection, rehabilitation services, and other disability-related health services.
The Ministry of Infrastructure is obliged to ensure the availability of inclusive infrastructures by applying a universal design in all road and building settings and to upgrade existing and new infrastructure to improve accessibility and mobility for PwDs.
The policy will immediately go into implementation after being published in the Official Gazette.
According to the Fourth Rwanda Population and Housing Census (2012 RPHC) report, there are 446,453 PwDs in Rwanda. Of these, 221,150 are male and 225,303 are female.
Approximately 20 percent (87,900) of the population of persons with disabilities are children between the ages of five and 18.