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When it comes to leisure, disabled Ghanaians get a raw deal. What can be done

A blind soccer player at training. Philip Otuo/Starr FM

Leisure is important for everyone. It has curative powers because it can help people de-stress, to build and maintain their physical health and to construct meaningful social relations. Even the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, recognises that everyone should have the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitations to work and periodic paid holidays.

But not everyone is lucky enough to have these rights met. This is particularly true of people with disabilities. Most are treated as second class citizens and often regarded as not being worthy of undertaking leisure.

This situation varies greatly between developed and developing countries. Developed countries have made great strides in ensuring the social inclusion of people with disabilities . But countries in the developing world, including Ghana, have barely moved in this direction. Disabled people very often still have to contend with negative attitudes such as stigma and exclusion.

Research has shown that people with disabilities lack access to a range of things that able bodied people take for granted. This includes economic opportunities, social care, accessible environments and access to technologies that can help them. These include technologies and tools such as wheelchairs, scooters, canes, prosthetics, hearing aids, voice recognition machines and screen readers. There are also no social services and assistance provided to them to enable them overcome discrimination.

In countries like Ghana, buildings and open spaces are not constructed to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities.

To understand people with disabilities’ access to leisure activities I conducted research in Ghana. The aim was to understand the leisure needs of people with disabilities with the view of providing them with accessible leisure spaces and activities that meet their needs.

The problem

My study sought to find out the kind of leisure activities pursued by people with visual impairment in Kumasi, the capital of Ghana’s Ashanti region. I also set out to establish their leisure aspirations. The decision to focus on people with visual impairment was made on the basis of a 2010 population and housing census which showed that they were the biggest category of people with impairments.

The study involved putting questionnaires to 330 people with visual impairment drawn from a database housed by the Ghana Blind Union, an organisation that advocates for inclusion of people with visual impairment.

Some of the insights about their leisure activities were that the participants listened to music, radio, watched television (those partially sighted), and engaged in meditation. Others also engaged in chatting, sleeping and reading (those educated in braille).

When it came to their leisure aspirations, participants listed activities such as the desire to jog, play board games, visit friends and relatives, play football and read at the top of their wish list.

The reasons they gave for not being able to do these things included financial constraints, lack of social support and inaccessible physical environments.

The next steps

The leisure aspirations listed by the participants are common activities in Ghana. This suggests that people with visual impairment aren’t using them because leisure spaces aren’t inclusive.

This shows that the national governments, as well as city authorities, have a lot of work to do to create disable friendly leisure spaces. Existing public spaces should be reconfigured to become disable friendly.

My findings also point to the fact that disabled people are unable to take up leisure activities of their choice because they are marginalised by socio-economic and cultural circumstances. A lack of social support, financial constraints and inaccessible physical environment permeates all spheres of their lives.

This points to the need for individuals and organisations interested in the welfare of people with disabilities to heighten their advocacy efforts. Additionally, society, particularly families, need to be educated so that they understand that disabled people are part of the diversity in society. And that they require support to overcome the disabling conditions they encounter.

Crucially, negative perceptions about people with disabilities must be worked on by civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, the Department of Social Welfare and all those interested in the welfare of people with disabilities.

In addition, the government, through its agencies such as the Land Use and Spatial Planning Authority, should enforce the country’s Disability Law to ensure that all public places are made physically accessible. This would help people with visual impairment navigate the physical environment, and pave the way for them to be able to take part in more leisure activities.

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