Friday May 23 2014

People with disabilities are losers in 2014-2015 budget proposals

By Ambrose Murangira

I have read the national budget proposals for Financial Year 2014/15 and I wonder whether its architects know the predicament of people like me. I became deaf when I was in Primary Six. At secondary school, I did not have an interpreter.

At Makerere University, my family, friends like Alex Ndeezi and Uganda National Association of the Deaf (not government) paid for my interpreter.

When I visit a health centre, I pay for my interpreter, including his transport fares; at workplace, I hire my interpreter. At the church, events and social gatherings, I have to do the same.

With the above in mind, the national budget proposals for FY 2014/15 offer no hope for people like me. Ironically, I pay taxes yet I do not get services. If the government cannot pay for my interpreter at school, hospital, workplace, etc., where do the taxes I pay go?

A study by Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group revealed that Special Needs and Inclusive Education (SNIE) has, from 2010/11 to 2013/14, received only 0.33 per cent of the national budget (education sector).

In the proposed FY 2014/15 budgetary estimates, the department of Special Needs, Guidance and Counselling is set to receive the least budget share of Shs2.1 billion! Out of this, a paltry Shs1.2 billion is to be spent on Special Needs and Inclusive Education. The rest is to be for guidance and counselling. The current proportions are far below the recommended 10 per cent in the Persons with Disability Act (2006).

There is currently a plan to pilot Kiswahili in primary schools. Though this is a good move, my concern is: When will the government implement PWDs Act 2006 provisions, which require government to introduce sign language into primary school curriculum?

When you look at proposed budget and planned outputs of all sectors, particularly agriculture, education, health, social development, there are no interventions directed at PWDs except SNIE, which is unreasonably underfunded.

For instance, how will a blind person benefit from agricultural programmes? There are many consultation and review workshops in this country, but there are no provisions for sign language interpretation services to enable the deaf participate in such meetings!

Worse still, the dominant medium of communication is radio. For example, under the agriculture sector, there is a plan to hold 86 radio talk shows on market information. How will the deaf access such vital information? In few instances where PWDs are mentioned, they are categorised as vulnerable groups! We should note that all PWDs are not the same – deaf persons, blind persons, physical disabilities, little people, and albinos have unique peculiarities requiring diverse interventions. For example, the deaf may need sign language interpreters while the blind need braille.

The National Council for Disability, which is mandated to monitor and evaluate government, NGOs and private sector programmes, in benefiting PWDs, is underfunded. This partly explains why it has only made one report to Parliament since it was established in 2004.

Under the need for improved accommodation for the soldiers, Mubende Army Barracks, which rehabilitates injured/disabled soldiers, is not included. Justice, Law and Order Sector is another key sector. The deaf have no sign language interpreters in courts, blind persons can’t make statements in braille and they can’t give evidence because they are unable to visually identify suspects.

The sector also plans to translate and publish the Constitution in two local languages: Runyoro/Rutoro and Runyankole/Rukiga. What about the braille version to cater for the needs of the blind? We must mainstream disability issues at all planning levels.

Mr Murangira is a policy analyst.