Persons with Disability Day: Creating an enabling environment for all

By Duma Edward-Dibiana

One of the highlights of the current administration is the signing into law of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018, on January 23, 2019, by President Muhammadu Buhari, after many year’s of agitation by well meaning Nigerians, especially, advocacy groups and people living with disability.

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and imposes sanctions including fines and prison sentences on those who contravene it.

A beautiful piece of legislation, if you ask me, but how has this law protected the people living with disability from discrimination, stigmatization and cruelty, three close to four years after it came into existence? For answer, we may have to look at some true life incidents around us.

Dateline July 2022: It was at the heat of the COVID-19 lock down in one of the South eastern states of Nigeria. A young girl of about 15 years old, who has autism wakes up in the morning and comes outside her home, in a shared compound with other extended family members. She sees one of her uncles and greets, “Ndaa, ibolachi, Ndaa ibolachi” (Uncle, good morning! Uncle, good morning! ) in a local Igbo dialect. No response. She repeats the greetings again. But she was ignored. Rather, what the little girl received was a piercing, menacing stare. She gets the message and scurries back into the house. Her uncle had in the past warned her against coming outside, especially when he is around.

Another woman has also narrated how transporting her child with disability and her wheelchair on public buses in Lagos has become a disturbing challenge, because of the uncooperative attitude of bus conductors.

According to the woman, one day on their way to the hospital, a bus conductor told her midway into the journey: “Madam you go pay for four people o, plus your load” (points at the child’s wheelchair).

The woman protested that she was only traveling with her child.

Then the conductor said: “Since you enter this bus, you see any other passenger wey join una? Nobody gree sidon near you and your pikin and na four people we dey carry for that roll…if you no wan pay, abeg come down join another motor.”

The woman looked round the bus and to her amazement, passengers occupied other seats apart from the row she was seated with her child.

Recently too, I had an encounter with a senior management staff of a school I’m familiar with. I heard a tale about how the management of the school withdrew all the children with special needs in their school and refunded the fees they had paid for the current term.

So, I called the management staff of the school to verify the information because I had earlier doubted the authenticity of the story, but was bewildered when the person in question said: “Hmmmm….It’s true. We have a policy which says since we don’t have facilities for their maximum profit, they can no longer be in our classes.”

But I consider that to be an unjust policy! If the school had been receiving fees from the children all the while like other children, why not use that money to provide the resources needed to ensure that they were not excluded based on their conditions? And Do the policy makers know that some of these conditions are genetic and could affect anybody? Disability is not a respecter of tribe, religion, race or social status.

And where is that Nigerian law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all the above referenced incidents?

Today, December 3, 2022 is International Day of Persons Living with Disability. It is an annual event hosted by the United nations and observed internationally. International Day of Persons with Disability (IDPD) was first launched in 1922. The annual event is 29 years old this year and the conversation is still about the plight of people with disability challenges in Nigeria.

The Disability Day was put in place to encourage leaders across the globe to value the unique contributions of people with disability. It aims to increase the public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability and celebrate their achievements and contributions.

Also the United Nations has described persons with disabilities to include those who have long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments, which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others

Many have advocated that in addition to the Disability Act, Nigeria has a lot to do in order to give life to the law. For instance, scattered all over our dear country, are LEA primary schools and government secondary schools for able bodied children without putting into consideration their peers living with disability. It would be good to see a Nigeria where every government owned school has Support Units that’ll cater for the needs of people with disability needs, thereby reducing the exorbitant fees in private schools that are beyond many parents.

Also accessibility features for learners with disabilities, such as ramps at the school entrances and classrooms should be provided to ease the movement of wheelchair users around the school environment, churches, mosques, public transportation and other such places. This is not asking for too much, as they are part of the provisions of the Disability Act signed by President Buhari.

The theme for this year’s event is: Transformative Solution for Inclusive Development. And we call on government to take realistic steps in establishing inclusive schools in all 774 LGAs in Nigeria and incorporate a system retraining educators in public schools with a view to equipping them with the necessary skills to support inclusion in our schools.

People living with disability live with their conditions in our communities and share the same markets, malls, schools, churches, mosques, with us! There is no special society carved out for them. So, the earlier we learn more about their conditions and how it affects them and ways to support them, the better for us all. We need to give them the opportunity to showcase and promote their many strengths in order to dismantle the glaring stigma.

Together, in one accord, we can achieve all these and more !

▪︎Mrs Duma Edward-Dibiana is
Director, Ugo Edward-Dibiana Down Syndrome Foundation.

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