Disabilities Bill to be passed in Malawi

Eight years.

That is how long Mr. Mussa Chiwaya, the Federation of Disabilities Organization of Malawi executive director, says people with disabilities have been waiting for the Malawian government to pass the Disabilities Bill.

But the end of the wait is in sight.

At UNAID’s Inaugural Disability Stakeholders Forum Thursday at Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe George Mkondiwa,  Malawi’s Principal Secretary of Disability and Elderly Affairs, said Malawians can expect the Disabilities Bill to be passed in Parliament’s next session that starts Friday May 18, 2012. 

“We are now very certain that before the end of the budget session which is staring on the 18th we will have this bill tabled in parliament and passed,” says Mr. Mkondiwa.

The primary goal of the Disabilities Bill is to increase the rights of people with disabilities in Malawi, says Douglass Arbuckle, the USAID representative at the meeting Thursday. This can be achieved, he says, because the bill will ensure the government considers people with disabilities in its policymaking decisions once it is passed.

“As of right now there is not a lot of this going on,” says Mr. Arbuckle in an interview. “The bill will at least raise awareness and put this issue front and centre for Malawians.”

The government will consider people with disabilities because of the new bill in areas such as transportation and architectural standards.

For instance, the bill states that any newly constructed building in Malawi must be accessible to people with disabilities. Otherwise, building owners can be punished by the law, says Mr. Mkondiwa. The bill will also promote an increase in accessible transportation across the country.

The bill failed to catch the government’s attention in the past, says Mr. Mkondiwa, because it was too narrowly focused. The bill’s original design only highlighted the demands of the Malawi Council for the Handicapped (MACHOA), he says. In 2009 the bill’s mandates were expanded and have since gained attention from the current government.

“President Joyce Banda has promised that she will do all in her power to help the disabled and has stated that stakeholders who support the disabled have a partner at the State House,” says USAID’s Mr. Arbuckle during his speech at Thursday’s forum.

The primary goal of people with disabilities is to have the Disabilities Bill passed into law, says Mr. Arbuckle. But once it is passed by the government, the disabled community also seeks to create a National Advisory and Coordination Committee on Disability Issues and develop a Status of Disabilities in Malawi Report.

Thursday’s Disabilities Stakeholders Forum was funded by USAID. USAID funds these meetings twice a year. The organization, says Mr. Arbuckle, sponsors the meetings in hopes of progressing the rights of people with disabilities in Malawi. The forum meets four times a year.



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