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Creating opportunities for persons with disabilities

By Gloria Nwafor
29 December 2020   |   3:04 am
The need for nations to stand together and reinforce the message that all people, including persons with disabilities (PWDs), deserve to live freely, equally, prosperously

The need for nations to stand together and reinforce the message that all people, including persons with disabilities (PWDs), deserve to live freely, equally, prosperously and with dignity is paramount.
 
Research has shown that economic exclusion of PWDs reduces countries’ Gross Domestic Products (GDPs) by three to seven per cent.

 
Experts have also said that persons with physical impairment face multiple barriers to equal participation in society and that there is an urgent need to remove those barriers.
 
They said the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately worsened the plight of PWDs.
 
As the world commemorated International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships, World Bank, Mari Pangestu, in her opening remarks, noted that many PWDs had underlying health issues, which makes them particularly vulnerable to severe symptoms of COVID-19 if they contracted it.
 
She said a sustainable resilient recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 and delivering on the World Bank’s mission of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity would not be possible unless nations create opportunities for persons with disabilities.
 
Through its latest packages for the world’s poorest countries, she mentioned that the World Bank made disability a core component across key work areas.
 
Reflecting on this year’s theme, ‘Building Back Better: Towards a Disability-Inclusive, Accessible and Sustainable post-COVID-19 World’, she said: “We ensure we address disability as a social component of our operations.”
 
However, the Executive Director of a research centre for persons with disabilities, Micah Shabbi, had said that Africans’ disposition to this vulnerable group remains troubling.
 
He said that in Africa, people pay more attention to the disability they notice in a person than to 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, in his message to commemorate the day, said with the pandemic, persons with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty and experience higher rates of violence, neglect, and abuse
 
Guterres pointed out that an estimated one billion persons living with disabilities globally are less likely to enjoy access to education, healthcare, and livelihoods, or to participate and be included in the community. 

He said nations must ensure that the aspirations and rights of persons with disabilities are included and accounted for in an all-inclusive, accessible, and sustainable post-COVID-19 world. 
 
In Nigeria, despite the law signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in January 2019, against discrimination of PWDs, The Guardian gathered that most Nigerian Government agencies and private institutions are yet to apply the provisions of the 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, governments at various levels have so far not complied.   

 
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.
 
Workers in the textile sector at the celebration charged President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure full implementation of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, which he signed into law last year.
 
The workers under the umbrella of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN) also advocated for an inclusive disability COVID-19 recovery plan.
 
President of NUTGTWN, John Adaji, said Buhari should also ensure the implementation of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Nigeria had ratified. 
 

Adaji noted that by ratifying the UN Convention on the CRPD, Nigeria is also expected to develop and carry out policies, laws and administrative measures for securing the rights recognised in the Convention and abolish laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination against persons with disabilities.
 
He assured that the union, an affiliate of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and IndustriALL Global Union, would heighten advocacy and campaign for full implementation of all the enabling laws as they affect the rights of persons with disabilities.
 
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 a 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 PWDs 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 rights. There are some persons who support our rights 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 the right to go to a club and enjoy myself and dance? Going to a club in my wheelchair 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 PWDs, they should hasten up.
 
“It is not just enough to have that law, they should set up instruments or commissions 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.