Wednesday, September 24, 2014

We all are persons with disabilities, aren’t we?

“The increased cases of violence and attacks in Nigeria which have been characterised by loss of lives and properties continue to be a source of concern for all. These range from terrorist attacks in the North to ethnic and religious violence in different parts of the country. Persons with disabilities remain one of the most vulnerable groups in times of such insecurity and violence. There are an estimated 22 million persons with disabilities in Nigeria making up 10 per cent of the population. Such attacks magnify their disabilities; leave the PWDs and their care-givers without adequate protection and serve to swell the growing numbers of persons with disabilities in Nigeria. Sadly, the PWDs in Nigeria remain invisible during the security and emergency planning and response.
—David Anyaele, Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, August 25, 2014
On September 16, 2014, I was a guest speaker at the Disability Awareness Week organised by the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, Lagos. I presented a paper jointly written with my very good friend, 'Dayo Olaide  titled, “Insurgency in Nigeria, 2015 General Elections and the Plights of the Underrepresented Group: Focus on Persons with Disabilities.” At the event, I learnt a few lessons. First is that we are all disabled. Aren’t we? Tell me that person who is infinitely able: physically, mentally, emotionally, physiologically, spiritually, financially, and many more? Is a man who cannot father a child not a disabled person? What of a woman who cannot conceive? A poor person is said to be financially incapacitated. Many of us use eye glasses without which our vision will be impaired, yet, we fail to realise that we are part of the community of disabled persons. According to the World Health Organisation, “disability is part of the human condition and almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life, and those who survive to old age will experience increasing difficulties in functioning”.
Another lesson I learnt is the principle of, “Does he take sugar?” The anecdote here is that of someone who in a bid to serve a person with disability tea or coffee decides to ask the caregiver of the disabled person whether he takes sugar or not when he could simply have asked the person himself. This principle which was shared by Jan Knight, (the Civil Society Advisor of Justice for All programmme of the Department for International Development, Abuja) typifies how we treat persons with disability amongst us. Rather than doing a direct need assessment of the support desired by persons with disability, we tend to assume. No wonder persons with disabilities often say “nothing for us, without us.”
Jan went on to talk about the three models of disability which are: Welfare, Charity and Social models. She equally spoke about the three barriers being faced by persons with disabilities which include Attitudes, Environment and Institutions. Our attitudes, she opined, are based on fear and misunderstanding of the needs of the persons with disabilities. Environmental barriers include the roads without adequate road signs, pedestrian walkways, high-rise building without ramps and elevators, banks with their electronic security doors which are inaccessible to persons on crutches or wheelchairs, etc.
As for institutional barriers, there are quite a number of them. As we speak, the National Assembly has yet to pass the National Disability Bill which has been with it since 2011. Nigeria signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 and ratified it in 2010 but has yet to domesticate it. Thus, hitherto, persons with disabilities continue to lack access to justice, access to information, access to law, access to free education, access to free health care services and so on. In his opening remark at the event, David Anyaele, the Executive Director of CCD, said, “…whenever bombs explode, after the casualties, the next group are those who have survived but with disabilities. Regrettably, government agencies rarely mention or have data on the number of persons disabled as a result of bomb blasts neither do we have data on the number of soldiers that have suffered disabilities in responding to insurgencies”. Food for thought!
Another sublime statement made by Anyaele is that, “The consequences of conflicts and emergencies are manifold for persons with disabilities as well as their caregivers. When disability occurs, more than a part of the body is lost. It could be loss of self-esteem, loss of financial earnings, exposure to abuse and harmful practices, stigma, and discrimination amongst others.”
If an estimated 22 million of Nigeria’s population is made up of persons with physical disabilities, what forms of care and support are we giving these vulnerable groups? According to the March 2014 estimate of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the Internally Displaced Persons population in Nigeria stands at about 3.3 million. Do we know for sure how many of this figure are persons with disabilities? Are there any evacuation plans for persons with disabilities during natural disasters and armed conflicts in Nigeria? None to my knowledge.
How much of social inclusion do we have for persons with physical disabilities in the electioneering process? The Peoples Democratic Party in releasing its 2015 electoral guidelines for party primaries last week said the nomination forms for presidential aspirants is N22m; for governorship aspirants, it is N11m; aspirants for the Senate will have to cough up N4m; for the House of Representatives, aspirants it is N2m while aspirants for State House of Assembly will pay N1m. This huge nomination fees have technically excluded persons with disabilities many of whom just manage to eke out a living. Even if anyone of them manages to pay the nomination fee, does such a person with disability stand a chance of winning the party primaries? If he or she emerges as the party flag bearer, how feasible are the chances of winning in a general election against “able-bodied” candidates?
In terms of voting right, on paper, PWDs have such a right but in practice they are technically excluded. Section 56 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, only allows a blind or physically challenged voter to come to the Polling Units with a trusted aide in exercising their franchise. However, no special provision in terms of voter education or actual voting is made for this special people. No braille, no sign-language interpretation or any other voting aides for persons with disabilities. Even their access to polling units is hampered by virtue of the locations of some of these voting centres. It is indeed high time all attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers were removed from the pathways of persons with disabilities. Don’t you agree!
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