Instead of a Disability Commission
There was no ambiguity in our conclusion on the proposed disability commission at the weekend here that the establishment of such another commission should not be considered on a priority list of strategies to ensure the welfare and security of the physically challenged in the country.
We had said then that against the backdrop that the neglect of PLWDs is a social issue, it could be handled by setting up a special Department or Unit within the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development; Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development (FMWASD) and other relevant ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) instead of setting up a separate commission. We noted clearly that, “there are weightier matters of governance beyond setting up of another commission that can complicate matters in the context of managing welfare and security of the physically challenged in Nigeria”.
So, one other way to ‘make real’ the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018, is to ensure that this law is faithfully implemented. Therefore, the Act setting up relevant MDAs as suggested could be amended to accommodate PLWDs.
The relevant MDAs should be mandated to develop a multi-sectoral master plan or strategy for addressing the barriers PWDs face that limits their access to education, employment, housing, transportation, health care, rehabilitation and participation in activities such as politics, for the rights of PWDs as contained in the Act to be realised.
Basically, mainstreaming cannot be effective unless, at the same time, measures are taken to provide basic rehabilitation, prevention of impairments worsening, necessary assistive devices, aids, and equipment. So, to enjoy the full range of human rights as contained in the Act, PWDs should have access to education, built environment, transportation, information and communications infrastructure for them to be full participants in all aspects of life.
Some of these are doable in a few years because the Act also provides a five-year transitional period within which public buildings, structures or automobiles are to be modified to be accessible and usable by people with disabilities, including those on wheelchairs. Again, the Act specified that henceforth, before erecting any public structure, the approving authority should not approve the plan of a public building that does not make provision for accessibility facilities in line with the building code. Approving a building plan that contravenes the code attracts a fine of at least N1,000,000.00 or a term of imprisonment of two years or both.
The Act therefore, ensures social justice and inclusivity of PWDs in various spheres of human endeavour in Nigeria as discrimination is prohibited in public transportation facilities and service providers are to make provisions for the visually and hearing impaired and all persons challenged; which applies to seaports, railways and airport facilities. However, the government should have taken into account the fact that the transport sector is largely private sector driven in Nigeria. Since the government has legislative power, resource mobilisation power, and ‘coercive power’, government at all levels should lead the way and private sector should also join the ‘train’ to reduce or end the lamentation of PLWDs in Nigeria.
Ipso facto, addressing the inequalities between PWDs and people without disabilities in all areas of development, needs specific initiatives to empower the PWDs. Therefore, appropriate disability-specific multi-sectoral policies and strategies are needed to make mainstreaming operative, because a physically challenged child who cannot access special toilet himself/herself and is paralyzed on a wheel chair cannot benefit from education even if the school is fully accessible, has well-trained teachers and a child-tailored, flexible curriculum. Also, a disabled adult who is illiterate, has low self-esteem, with hardly any life experience and no access to essential assistive devices such as crutches, cannot take part in discussions organised by political parties. Therefore, there should be policies on the issues affecting PLWDs, such as having rams and automatic doors in public building, paying persons with disability equal pay for work of equal value, improving road safety by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, such as persons with disabilities and upgrading education facilities to be disability sensitive.
Essentially, achieving social inclusion for PWDs requires a comprehensive policy, which recognises that they need special services, special institutions, for a cure and/or rehabilitation or social assistance and permits their participation because they are different. So, the Nigerian state should walk the talk by mainstreaming disability into its policies as has been done with gender, because in 2006, Nigeria came up with a National Gender Policy, which has helped to keep the issue of gender in the front burner, even though gender disparity is still a common place. Against the backdrop of this precedence, Nigeria should confront disability and give it attention as is being done to gender discrimination, children protection, HIV/AIDS, and humanitarian crisis, by having a programme of action, based on the 2018 Act to address PWDs’ concerns in all political, economic and societal spheres, so that disabled people can have a remarkable sense of belonging.
Furthermore, the Federal Government should mandate relevant ministries. Departments and agencies (MDAs) to jointly design, launch and implement interventions towards the inclusion of persons with disabilities in their initiatives. Similarly, the organised private sector should follow suit, because the issue of disability is not only a question of human rights but is also a matter of social and economic development.
Meanwhile, relevant civil society organisations, particularly the media, have a major role to play in raising awareness and changing attitudes towards physically challenged people. They should embark on building the capacity of PWDs to enable them develop life-skills, self-esteem, and an understanding of their rights.
So, for the dignity of human persons and social justice, equity and inclusivity; national development activities should promote non-discrimination and equal opportunities for PWDs to participate in every facet of life — civil, political, economic, social and cultural. This way, our country will be in synergy with the global vision of development and build a just society devoid of discrimination.