Since the Convention’s adoption, what do you believe its contributions have been for persons with disabilities in your country?
If we look at the actions undertaken since the CRPD’s adoption, things are not entirely rosy, but they are not desperate either. Before the Convention, persons with disabilities were discriminated against and relatively invisible. Now that we have the Convention, more and more actions are being undertaken so persons with disabilities have a voice and can exercise their right to freedom of expression. But they also have the right of access to information. Also, all drafted legislation now integrates the disability dimension during the legislative elaboration phase. These improvements are visible at both the legislative and political level. They are also particularly visible in the resources allocated to Disabled People’s Organisations, especially the resources that the government allocates to the Federation. Because today the government recognises that the Federation’s work should really fall within the missions undertaken by the State.
What have been the main changes for persons with disabilities since the Convention’s adoption?
There have been many changes. I will address only a few of them. The first change is that, before the Convention, there was no spoken television news for deaf people. Deaf people had no way to even inform themselves about what was being done. With the Convention, things began tentatively. Once a week, every Monday at 1 pm, all the news from the past week was summarised in sign language. Then this stopped for a while. Then it began all over again, bigger and better than before. Every day now, Monday through Friday, the news is made accessible in sign language for deaf people. So, this was a true breakthrough for us.
The second change is that, before the Convention, there was a discriminatory principle in the legislation governing civil service recruitment exams, particularly as applied to the teaching profession. It was clearly stated that candidates should not suffer from any sensory impairment, which thereby excluded persons with visual and hearing impairments. However, thanks to our advocacy initiatives in favour of the right to non-discrimination, and thanks to the advent of the Convention, we managed to have this provision withdrawn for all exams (especially for teaching). And now, blind persons are recruited as teachers, and assigned to specialised centres, to primary teacher training schools and to secondary teaching schools of education. A laureate was also awarded. All these improvements were made possible by the advent of the Convention.
The third change that I want to highlight is the evolution of the participation of persons with disabilities at the grass roots level. We have Village Development Committees, at the canton level. Persons with disabilities were not represented. If you are not represented at these village committees, then your concerns are not taken into account when the village develops its action plan. But this is changing slowly, and organisations representing persons with disabilities are now stakeholders in action plan development, so that the concept of disability can be included. Because, if the concerns of persons with disabilities are not written into legislation, then, obviously they cannot be taken into account when legislation is executed. These are some of the significant changes for us. And in addition to that, the fact that some persons with disabilities have been appointed to decision-making positions is also significant progress.
What actions undertaken with persons with disabilities are you particularly proud of?
I am particularly proud of the fact that Disabled People’s Organisations were involved in the development of Togo’s current National Development Strategy for the 2012-2015 period, which defines a strategy for accelerated growth and promotion of employment. At the time of the previous strategy, formalised in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, the Togolese Federation of Disabled People’s Organisations (Fédération Togolaise des Associations de Personnes Handicapées – FETAPH) was only involved in the final validation phase. This time around, persons with disabilities from all the Regions of Togo were invited to participate in the consultations, in order to include persons with disabilities in the agenda. Then, the Federation took charge of working with the local organisations to ensure overall coordination, before representing them at the final document validation stage. As a result, persons with disabilities are specifically designated in the country’s national development document for the 2012-2017 period. This was a great accomplishment, a first, that had never been seen before in the country, for the development of a national development strategy.
What challenges do you see in the coming years, over the next 10 years?
I see challenges in three key areas, or rather four key areas. The first challenge is in the field of education, because education is the bedrock of development and persons with disabilities are being left behind. Left behind when it comes to the adaptation of teaching tools and to the training of teachers that are able to answer and provide for their needs. Today, it isn’t possible for persons with disabilities to attend their local school. Therefore, the education system needs to be changed, so that it becomes inclusive, and so that measures are taken towards teacher training and towards the implementation of specific mechanisms, particularly in terms of accessibility.
The second challenge is in the field of health. There is much to be done. It is important that States now implement mechanisms that will enable persons with disabilities to benefit from healthcare services. The existing health insurance systems in our countries do not provide for any technical aids (canes, artificial limbs, glasses). We must tackle these challenges, so that all individuals have equal opportunities.
The third challenge is in the field of vocational educational training and technical training. More and more, we are finding that it is this type of training that is the most effective in helping people find employment as quickly as possible, or become self-employed. Unfortunately, persons with disabilities have limited access to such training, and so remain in the general education sector. A person with a hearing impairment, for example, can shape metal. Training materials just need to be accessible, so that the information can be transmitted. Then, that person can exercise this vocation freely. So, really this vocational and technical training field needs to be reinvented so that persons with disabilities can find their place.
The last challenge in my mind is in the field of employment. The State is presently working towards persons with disabilities being admitted into civil service, and these efforts are to be commended. At this time, the private sector is almost completely closed to persons with disabilities, despite it being the largest single provider of employment. States must therefore implement incentives to enable the private sector to recruit persons with disabilities, and propose measures to support the employment of persons with disabilities by private businesses. Persons with disabilities must also be supported towards self-employment, through the identification of promising business sectors, to determine profitable sectors, which will allow them to exist as individuals, and to preserve their inherent dignity.