“People with disabilities have a lot of potential to take part in the development processes…” Med Ssengooba, a Ugandan lawyer working with the non-profit group Legal Action for Persons with Disabilities (LAPD), says the United States has done a lot to improve opportunities for its disabled citizens, and he hopes his country and others in Africa will also be able to make much-needed progress. Read more…
This article was originally posted at:http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/article/2010/08/20100803132811xlrennef0.974148.html#axzz1nHuehBnK
Washington — Med Ssengooba, a Ugandan lawyer working with the nonprofit group Legal Action for Persons with Disabilities (LAPD), says the United States has done a lot to improve opportunities for its disabled citizens, and he hopes his country and others in Africa will also be able to make much-needed progress.
Ssengooba is attending the President’s Forum with Young African Leaders August 3-5 in Washington. The forum includes a town hall meeting with President Obama at the White House, where delegates will share their visions for transforming their societies over the next 50 years and discuss ways the United States can be an effective partner.
Any vision for the future of Africa must include people with disabilities, who constitute “a significant percentage of the community anywhere in Africa — almost 10 percent of the population,” Ssengooba said. “People with disabilities have a lot of potential to take part in the development processes of their countries, yet they are in most cases excluded from most of the development programs.”
Even youth empowerment programs often overlook persons with disabilities (PWDs), he said. “They mostly look at the cost [of providing assistance], and PWDs are left out of such programs, including events marking International Youth Day.” People with disabilities in Uganda also face challenges finding jobs, getting access to education, voting and running for office, Ssengooba said.
On July 26 he attended a White House event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). “President Obama’s remarkswere really very good and promising,” he said. Obama committed the federal government to employing more people with disabilities, to ensuring that they can live in the community rather than in “inappropriate institutional living arrangements,” and to “guiding the independence of PWDs and not dependence, in all fields of life,” Ssengooba said. “To me, those were key issues.”
Ssengooba, 28, has used a wheelchair since contracting polio as a child. His experience contributed to his decision to become a lawyer. “I grew up with a disability, and thus was at the center of discrimination, stereotyping and constrained access to services,” he said. “We never had enough support in school as children with disabilities, all through to university.” He decided that he wanted to work with others to create change.
Ssengooba is currently a Ford Foundation International Fellow studying for his master of laws (LL.M.) degree in international legal studies at American University in Washington. He will return to Uganda next year to continue his work at LAPD, one of the first nonprofit organizations in Africa to provide legal assistance specifically for persons with disabilities.
LAPD handles disability-related human rights violations such as the confiscation of people’s land and other property, accident claims, child neglect, and discrimination in education, employment and other sectors. Most complaints are settled out of court. The organization conducts public awareness campaigns and is helping Uganda adapt its laws to meet its commitments under theU.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Uganda has signed and ratified. (The United States signed the convention in 2009 but has not yet ratified it.)
Although he devotes most of his energies to disability issues, Ssengooba wants all Ugandans to enjoy civil and political rights. “I have worked on gender issues, youth and children’s rights, and the experience informs me of the social injustices marginalized communities go through,” he said. He has published several papers and articles on human rights topics, including gender-based violence and the situation of disabled people living in internally displaced persons camps in northern Uganda.
He feels a special affinity for street children and orphans.
“I really feel that they go through many challenges, sometimes even beyond people with disabilities,” he said. “In the future, I need to invest my resources, human and financial, in them.”
Judith Heumann, the U.S. State Department’s special adviser on international disability rights, said Ssengooba’s selection as a delegate to the President’s Forum was based on his “incredible qualifications” and his ability to make a unique contribution.
“I believe that Med’s participation will enable the entire group to understand more clearly how disability is part of all aspects of human rights and economic development,” Heumann said. “And hopefully, at the end of the day this will advance the inclusion of people with disabilities.”
More information on LAPDis available on the organization’s website.
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