BAMENDA, Cameroon (GPI)-- Ruth Acheinegeh, who was diagnosed with polio at age 2, uses crutches to get around. But she says many places in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest region, can’t accommodate her.
“It pains my heart when persons with disabilities are left out in issues that are supposed to include them,” she says.
Family, government and society contribute to making life difficult for the disabled, says Acheinegeh, who serves as president of the Northwest Association of Women with Disabilities.
The association teaches members about their rights and personal development issues, ranging from education to hygiene. It also strives to educate the community about disabilities, calling for the social, economic, political and infrastructural inclusion of disabled people, and women especially.
On the family level, she says that families neglect members with disabilities.
“The family should be the first place to make life enjoyable for their handicapped children,” she says. “But on the contrary, most families see them as a burden. They are left without the basic necessities, especially mobility necessities.”
Acheinegeh says that if families make it their duty to meet the needs of their disabled members, it gives them the self-esteem to fight for their rights in the larger society.
“Homes, government structures and even churches are not accessible to disabled,” she says. “We expect that ramps and rails should be constructed in government and or public buildings so as to ease mobility for persons living with disabilities.”
Acheinegeh says the disabled must demand access to infrastructure so they are not left out of public and private development projects in the nation.
Disabled people in Cameroon say that families, the government and society don’t consider their needs, especially when it comes to developing infrastructure that will increase access. Leaders of organization for disabled people are asking the government to ratify the U.N. convention protecting their rights and to raise awareness about accessibility requirements for construction and renovation in Cameroon. Government officials say they are making efforts to include disabled citizens when erecting public structures and to ensure their rights.
The World Health Organization estimates that disabled people make up 10 percent of the population in Cameroon, a country of more than 20 million people. The major causes of disability include leprosy, polio, road and work accidents, and onchocerciasis or river blindness.
Frankline Essame relies on crutches to walk after being crippled by polio. He says his biggest worry is the inaccessibility of government and public buildings in Bamenda.
“It is very disturbing if you have something to do in an office but you cannot get inside because of the way the building is structured,” he says. “I encounter this all the time, and it is so painful.”
Essame says he hopes that occasions like the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, celebrated on Dec. 3, push government officials and other community members to listen to the needs of the disabled and take action.
Cecilia Ngwafor, who lives in Bamenda, says her daughter is disabled. But the government school she attends is not equipped to accommodate children with disabilities.
“Every day, she has to come out of her wheelchair and crawl to her class because there is no easy passage for her,” Ngwafor says of her daughter. “It is very disturbing because it makes her uniform dirty every day.”
Ngwafor says government and administrators at public and private schools must consider the needs and concerns of the disabled when constructing or choosing buildings for their schools.
Samuel Nyingcho, 40, is blind. He is the president of the Coordinating Unit of Associations of Persons with Disabilities in the Northwest Region, an umbrella organization that coordinates activities for 35 independent associations of people living with disabilities in the region.