Culture has been defined as characteristics and knowledge of a particular people in language, beliefs, practices, music and art. African has been labelled as the cradle of humanity, influencing many other cultures. The diversity of ethnic groupings in Africa provides for a rich and diverse cultural heritage. Although documented in part, African cultures have had negative cultural practices towards persons with disabilities.
Disability rights movement started in the 1960s in America. This was during the civil rights movement whereby groups of minorities merged to amplify their voices. Previously the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified in 1948 and it sought to uphold the dignity of all human life. During this period, most African countries were in the process of gaining independence or still colonies. Formal education was taking root through missionaries and colonial masters. Africans were stuck to their cultures and their way of life.
African cultures are generally communal. Cultural practices and beliefs have since time immemorial contributed to the preservation of communities. Disability has been quite an alien concept in most of the African cultures. Disability had been associated with wickedness, witchcraft, a curse, or taboo. In some cultures, a disabled new born would be left in the wild to die. Some were ostracized or poisoned to ‘maintain the dignity’ of the clan or family. Presently, there have been cases of family breakups due to births of a child with a disability whereby spouses would denounce existence of disability in their family linage.
The association of disability and ‘darkness’ in African cultures has contributed significantly to the stigmatization and discrimination of persons with disabilities. These beliefs have continuously been purported into the twenty first century. Some cultures still believe that disability is a curse. This brings a lot of stigma for parents, guardians, caregivers and families with persons with disabilities. Further discrimination is exhibited in access to opportunities such as education, employment or social life.
Negative cultural practices further gain momentum into institutionalized social norms. For example, sixteen years later after developing a Persons with Disability Act in Kenya which envisaged five percent employment for the disabled in both public and private sectors, these still haven’t been reached. Other policies developed to advance the disability agenda continue to take a snail pace.
The impact of negative cultural beliefs and practices can be witnessed in policy and planning of disability services. There are low budgetary provisions, inadequate human resource such as special needs education teachers, social discrimination, stigmatization among others. The population of persons with disability is almost ten percent globally. Persons with disabilities should not be deterred from being contributors of their communities and extensively productive members of society.