Living with disabilities: We are lagging behind in terms of access – Dickson
Mrs. Patience Dickson is the Founder/Executive Director of the Advocacy for Women With Disability Initiative. In this interview with GERALDINE AKUTU, she talked about persons living with disabilities and other issues.
World Disabilities Day was marked recently. How is the society reacting to people with disabilities, in regard to inclusion in planning of policies and execution?
As a person that believes in development, I look at things differently, even though I have a disability. This year’s theme is all about the participation of persons living with disabilities by way of inclusion. What it entails for us all is that we need to work together to ensure there is access for people with disabilities in all areas of life.
As they concentrate on building leadership by way of participation, it is also a wake-up call for each and every one of us to include disability into the system, not as people that need help, but people that have rights. The UNCRDP is all about the rights of people living with disabilities in the area of equality, equity and inclusion. It is time we look at disability issues as the right issues, and not a charity approach.
I work with girls and women with disabilities. We focus on women and girls living with disabilities, especially as it concerns their productive health and rights, inclusion, accessibility, and availability. Also, we focus on the vulnerable in the society, marginalised or part of the minority group.
We are trying to change the narrative. Stakeholders should ensure that this works for us all. We have to be part of this change because we are operating within the system, and if we are operating within the system, we need to have this change effected in our lives. So, persons living with disabilities are change agents within the system they live and operate in.
Do you think society treats persons living with disabilities fairly?
To an extent, persons with disabilities have been treated fairly, but in some cases, they are not fairly treated. Although a lot of improvement has been made because the terrain while growing up, is quite different from the one I am in right now.
There has been progressing in awareness creation because people now know we have issues with disabilities and are enlightened that persons living with disabilities are not beggars, but also have rights. A lot of things still need to be done, though because we are lagging behind in terms of access.
If I go to the hospital, it is not accessible to me as a wheelchair user. Also, it is not accessible to the person who is deaf, because there is no sign interpreter there. The same thing goes for the blind. So, a lot of things need to change. There should be space for disabled persons to participate because if they don’t, they would not be part of those that make decisions concerning their lives. It’s all about leaving no one behind.
How far has your organisation gone in awareness creation on disabilities?
It is important to state here that raising awareness should not be left for the organisation alone. We are all stakeholders in this. The media should be a voice because people listen to the media. The media plays a very vital role in our world. We all must play our part. Over the years, we as an organisation has been able to bring to the fore, issues on people living with disabilities and that are why World Disabilities Day is marked every year.
So many policies and frameworks have come and gone. Also, that is why the Discrimination Against Persons With Disability Prohibition Act signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari came on board. It is now time to start talking about implementing most of these policies. It is important that the President put in place a commission that will see to the implementation of those policies.
What advice do you have for parents of children with disabilities, adults with the conditions and government?
You cannot control what has happened to the child, as it has already happened. So, you have to live with it, accept it and make life better for the child. Parents should try and mould the child towards the future. Having a child with disability does not mean all hope is lost. In fact, it is beginning of life.
Parents must make life better for the child. It is not time to isolate them. Adults living with disability must accept it. Disability is not a health issue. Rather, it is just a condition you come across that is not part of your life.
The United Nations looks at disability as diversity. It is only when you accept the condition that you will pass all the challenges you will encounter or have faced. If you want to by-pass it, you have to move and reshape your life for good. People with disabilities are people that function in a different way. Government should make available everything persons with disabilities need to function effectively. There should be accessibility. Government should put in place the right facilities.