Like many African countries, Malawi ratified the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
The country is party to several human rights instruments that preceded CRPD.
They include the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which came into force in 1976.
CRPD is significant and unique in its approach to disability as it focuses on the inherent human rights of persons with disabilities. It identifies them as beings like any other persons.
However, persons with disabilities often face barriers in claiming their rights on equal basis with others.
The gap between ratification and implementation of the international conventions is a mockery to the persons with disabilities. It demonstrates that different actors are not doing enough to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.
The media as a major actor in shaping the attitudes and opinions of people in society has somewhat acted as a barrier to claiming the rights of persons with disabilities.
For example, MBC broadcasts Reach Out and Touch which mobilises funds from well-wishers for needy people. No harm about this, but the devil is in the angle taken in covering issues affecting persons with disabilities which may be detrimental to their rights.
The programme reinforces a charity model of disability which negates the human rights model stipulated in the CRPD.
This charity model misconceives that people with disabilities are helpless and need to be cared for.
Reach Out and Touch makes people to offer pity and charity, but is it what people with disabilities really need?
It is significant to understand that pity and charity are easier to offer than for people to deal with their own prejudices, fear and discomfort they themselves feel when they come in contact with people with disabilities.
The approach strips people with disabilities of the power and responsibility to take charge of their own lives and assert their rights on equal basis with others.
The approach is contrary to the OHCHR, which stresses on empowering people with disabilities to make their own choices, advocate for themselves and exercise control over their lives.
Many times, the country has not been disability-friendly. One will hardly see a sign interpreter on television. This denies people with hearing impairment their freedom of access to information as vital programmes, including news bulletins, are not delivered in accessible formats.
Infringement of freedom of access to information deprives persons with disabilities the right to vote, freedom of opinion and expression.
I remember watching Jane Ansah briefing the nation how the voter registration exercise would be carried out. It was shocking not to see a sign interpreter for such an important message being communicated to the public of which people with disabilities are part.
The media should understand that having a sign interpreter is not optional. MEC should indeed ensure that information about elections is delivered in accessible formats for all Malawians. People with disabilities should not be left behind.
The private sector should also understand that a disability-friendly work environment goes beyond transforming the physical infrastructure for easy mobility.
Providing assistive technological equipment for persons with disabilities to work efficiently is crucial for them to claim their social and economic rights.
A company would not do itself harm by establishing quotas to empower persons with disabilities and also promote diversity. The corporate world can also protect and respect rights of persons with disabilities by funding programmes targeting them.
This has an advantage of improving the public good image. Until we take a step to promote, respect and protect human rights, the charity approach will remain a mockery to people with disabilities.