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Building an inclusive, transformative future for persons with disabilities 


Persons with disabilities

To achieve a change of attitude towards people with disabilities, the need to look at the person and not the disability is paramount.

Persons with physical impairment still face multiple barriers to equal participation in the society and there is an urgent need to remove those barriers.

Africans’ disposition to this vulnerable group remains troubling, the Executive Director of a research centre for persons with disability, Micah Shabbi, once said.

He said that in Africa, people pay more attention to the disability they notice in a person, than on the ability or what that person has to offer.

A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the World Bank in 2011, said 25 million people in Nigeria have one form of physical disability or another. The figure represents at least 15 per cent of Nigeria’s current population of 200 million, according to the United Nations (UN) estimates.

To help shape policies that foster decent work opportunities and inclusive workplace for all, equitable and sustainable development, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for “Leaving no one behind,” with targets set for all segments of the society.

UN General Secretary, António Guterres, reaffirmed the agency’s commitment to work with people with infirmity to build a sustainable, inclusive and transformative future in which everyone, including women, men, girls and boys with disabilities, could realise their potential.

He said: “When we secure the rights of people with disabilities, we move closer to achieving the central promise of the 2030 Agenda – to leave no one behind.

“However, the lack of disaggregated data for vulnerable groups – including the disabled – makes this a challenge, even as people with disability constitute an estimated one billion, or 15% of the world’s population.”

Despite the law signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in January 2019, against discrimination of persons with disability, The Guardian gathered that most Nigerian Government agencies and private institutions are yet to apply the provisions of this law.

Many Nigerians living with impairment say the journey towards legal recognition and respect by Nigeria is far; as the government that approved the new law has literally helped violate it.

For example, while the law says at least five per cent of all public appointments must go to people with disability, government at various levels have so far not complied. President Buhari did not appoint any person with disability into his 43-member cabinet in August last year.

In an effort aimed at “removing those barriers,” the authors of Nigeria’s new law against discrimination of persons with impairment included a requirement for all educational institutions in the country to be adequately accessible to such persons.

They want the government to begin the process of implementing the Act by educating Nigerians about the law and the consequential rights of disabled Nigerians.

Expressing the frustration most of them pass through daily to move from place to another in present-day Nigeria, they hoped that government would alleviate their pains by implementing the law.

For instance, spokesperson for the Joint Association of Persons Living With disabilities, Abuja Chapter, Ekwujeruonye Obinna, recalled he became blind in 2004, after he was diagnosed with having glaucoma and retinal detachment.

Sharing his experience, he said: “In Abuja for example, taxis don’t even have parks; making it very difficult for persons with disability to move around.

“There are no pedestrian walkways for people with disability. As I was on my way here from Jabi, I met a big hole in front of me. If I did not have my guide cane, God knows what would have happened.”

Micah Shabbi, who is also a Kaduna based Human Rights lawyer, whose ambition was altered by his former lecturer for being blind, said he still faces obstacles created by fellow Nigerians, whose opinions of others are clouded by their misconceptions of disability.

He described his life as an example of ability in disability, when he established the research centre to help disabled Nigerians achieve their dreams regardless of their physical abilities.

Last year, June 11, Guterres launched the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS), in line with his commitment to make the UN an inclusive organisation for all.

The UNDIS provides the foundation for sustainable and transformative progress on disability inclusion through all pillars of the UN work.

Through the Strategy, the UN system reaffirms that the full and complete realisation of the human rights of all persons with disability an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedom.

A social worker, Valentine Chukwunonyelum Anijah, expressed disappointment over people’s perception of disability, where they are tagged with names like outcasts and beggars.

He noted that about 50 per cent of physically challenged persons spread across the six geopolitical zones are jobless, and called on government to engage these people productively so as to ameliorate their pains.

“It’s so unfortunate that the graduates amongst us are treated with scorn on daily basis. The first impression a challenged person gets on accessing any office in Nigeria for work is neglect, some offices without inquiry into the purpose of your visit assumes you are a beggar and turns you back, an action I see as already prepared templates. I am talking from experience.”

Sharing one of his experience with The Guardian on how he was denied access into the banking hall because of his crutches, he said: “the bank refused collapsing their electronic door for me, I was left unattended to until I petitioned their head office in Marina, and threatened them legally, they came to my office on their knees begging that I should not go on with any legal action, and that I should withdraw if I have commenced any action at all. It was resolved. But why must this be?”

Founder and Leader of the Association of Comprehensive Empowerment of Nigerians with Disability (ASCEND), and Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Centre (MAARDEC), Cosmas Okoli, while advocating legislation to protect the rights of persons with disability in an interview with The Guardian, said persons with impairment are not taking advantage of the legislation to fight for their right.

“The big challenge is that persons with disability are not yet taking advantage of this law to fight for their right. We need to take the bull by the horns to fight for our right. There are some persons who support our right but they are not knowledgeable enough.

“We have two major barriers, the physical barrier and the attitudinal barrier. A situation where you go to some places and people will ask, what are you doing here? Don’t I have right to go to a club and enjoy myself and dance? Going to a club with my wheel chair and somebody will say what have I come here to do. That is discrimination, which is not right. That tells me I am not a full-fledged citizen, and I don’t have the right others have. It includes churches and shopping complexes.
On employment, Okoli said: “We are losing on all fronts, including skill acquisition and education. If you are not educated, the kind of job you can get is limited, and if you don’t have both, the kind of business you could run is limited.

“To disabled people, I say take up the challenge, fight for your right; you are the one who will tell the society what you are capable of doing, what you want and what you need.

“And for the larger society, persons with disability are full-fledged citizens of this country; put them into consideration in whatever you do.

“For the government, for those states that don’t have legislation to protect the right of persons with disability, they should hasten up.

“It is not just enough to have that law, they should set up instruments or commission and agencies that would help in ensuring the realisation of what the law is meant to achieve, and they should also ensure there are persons with disability desks in every agency, ministry. There should be someone who should be able to advise and contribute right from the planning stage of any project to its execution,” he said.

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