Dennis Peter Ouma speaks with authority, exuding knowledge. He is one man who will leave you shaking your head in awe at the passion and energy by which he goes about his advocacy for people with disabilities (PWDs), a cause to which he has unflinchingly devoted himself for the last eight years.
The 35-year-old has been confined to a wheelchair for the last 12 years. God saved him from the clutches of death following a nasty accident which left him incapacitated after sustaining a spinal cord injury. He has since been undergoing physiotherapy but his condition hasn’t improved, unless a divine miracle happens to him.
At the time of the accident, he was 23-years-old, working at Entebbe International Airport as team leader, Passenger Services, and at the same time in his third year pursuing a Bachelors of Commerce (external programme). After the accident, he couldn’t complete his studies.
The lurid experience of paralysis, which robbed him of the use of his legs, hands, among other body functions, has given him a strong resolve to live and catch up on his life dreams. His is a story of overcoming despair, having overcome death by the grace of God, to living out the full potential.
This is the common narrative countless others the world over would go through since time immemorial; the story of a good beginning being rudely distorted by an accident or other incidents, condemning one to the heap of statistics of PWDs, although others were born that way.
Rising from despair
However, it is only through taking full cognizance of the truism that ‘disability is not inability’ that one could rise from the ashes of despair to find hope and meaning in life. Whatever does not kill you should not invalidate your resolve to live and achieve your dreams and aspirations.
It is the same truism that has kept Ouma’s candle burning for the last 12 years. While listening to him, you will hear the story of a man with a mission and clarity of purpose.
A man who believes in himself, including his abilities that every time he goes to sleep, he will dream seeing himself one day walking on his feet again much as fate may have condemned him to a wheelchair!
“One thing I had to do was remind myself that I am not yet dead. I had to tell my inner self that I wanted to live and I had a dream to accomplish. Life has not been easy, but it is my determination to push on with hope that keeps me going up to date,” he says.
The determination to accomplish his dreams saw Ouma going back to school at Makerere University.
“Fast forward, in 2018, I applied for reinstatement and the Makerere University Kampala Board reviewed my application, after which they resolved to have me reinstated to complete the fourth year despite my disability. This was also after several rejections from various universities in my attempt to pursue a Law degree. Reason for rejection is that I was too disabled, unable to support by myself and ascend the stairs to the lecture rooms.
Ouma’s powerful oratory skills and advocacy for PWDs has defined him as an alternative voice championing the rights of the marginalised.
“PWDs are a big community in Uganda. We are more than six million people, representing about 12.4 per cent of the total population, boasting a constituency of four million registered voters. Our numbers are huge enough to decide the outcome of an election, and yet government hasn’t paid attention to the critical issues of the PWDs. Day by day, we continue to endure some of the most horrid tales of marginalisation. Some people, including our leaders, think we do not matter in society,” he says with a tinge of exasperation.
“I cannot begin to mention the countless challenges, the inaccessible environments, the insurmountable exclusion PWDs continue to face in this country, and yet do so without a voice that is critical enough to address the growing challenges of the day, without fear or favour, from a practical solutions perspective,” he adds.
Ouma says many PWDs live in rural areas in abject poverty without any reasonable government intervention to better their lives.
“For instance, the PWDs are acutely discriminated in the share of the government social development grants for special interest groups. The youth and women groups are given huge disbursements in the range of Shs20m to Shs50m per group, while the PWDs groups receive not more than Shs2m,” he says.
Ouma is also appalled by the Electoral Commission (EC) revised 2021 electoral roadmap, which calls for scientific campaigns. This, Ouma says, doesn’t address the concerns of PWDs.
“The blind cannot watch TV, the deaf cannot listen to radio, and many cannot access social media to follow the campaigns, so the EC should do an inclusive roadmap which doesn’t discriminate the PWDs,” he says.
Ouma asserts that the biggest blame may not go to the government as the primary reason why the PWDs community may not be adequately catered for in the government mainstream planning, budgeting and policy dissemination, but lack of clear-cut thoughtful and selfless leadership that is passionately committed to the PWDs agenda.
“Some of our leaders, especially among the PWD community, have failed to inspire any real change. We continue to voice out our concerns, including writing several petitions to be adopted in legislation but no one ever listens to us,” he says.
He continues: “There has been and still is a big disconnect between government or policy makers and the PWDs community. For instance, whenever government originates mass programmes, none of these programmes is specifically earmarked for PWDs. We are never consulted on any matter, despite the fact that we have representatives at all levels.”
Ouma went to Jinja College for his O-Level, and thereafter proceeded to Kololo SS for A-Level, where he ran a fierce campaign that saw him elected as head prefect in 2002.