- Governments and the society should empower the disabled rather than pity them
In terms of laws, Nigeria has enough regulating how People With Disabilities (PWDs) should be treated. The latest of these being the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act signed by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 23, 2019. More than two years down the line, there is no appreciable difference in the way PWDs are treated in the country. The sad part of it is that the very governments that should champion the cause of the disabled are about the most guilty culprits of the indifference towards them. The result is that the integration of the disabled into the society has largely remained a mirage.
Yet, what many of the PWDs want is not to be pitied. As a matter of fact, many of them detest roaming the streets begging for alms; a thing most people readily oblige them, either for religious reasons or on compassionate grounds. Rather, they believe there is ability in their disability. All they want are opportunities that recognise their peculiar challenges but still afford them a chance to demonstrate their talents in vocational matters, academics, sports or what have you. Thus, we have had geniuses among them in any or all of these areas. Many of them have brought honour to the country in Paralympic, which is their own version of the Olympics. Many have excelled in academics and in other areas of life despite their physical challenges.
A fact of life that many people conveniently ignore is that physical disability could be anybody’s lot. While some people were born with their disabilities, many others became PWDs through accidents, parental or personal negligence, ignorance, etc. which condemn them permanently to crawling or, if somewhat lucky, moving about on wheelchairs. Others lose their sight as a result, some have hearing problems whilst a lot of others suffer other forms of impairments. Just last week, we were told that 2,233 persons died in various road crashes in the country in just four months. Definitely, more than that figure would have suffered some permanent disability from those unfortunate and sometimes avoidable incidents.
That someone who was not born with disability could become disabled due to other factors, including road and other forms of accidents is enough to jolt everyone, particularly public officials who are saddled with the responsibility of providing infrastructure to always take them into consideration. The society may not be able to reverse their situation; but it can make life relatively comfortable for them.
Governments can also assist them by establishing or supporting initiatives such as the Iyanu Oluwa Vulnerable Group Centre in Osogbo, the Osun State capital, which some of them formed by way of self-help, where they practice all manner of trades, including shoe cobbling. One of those at the centre, Oguntile Ayoola, gives an insight into some of their challenges. Ayoola, who has been condemned to crawling permanently because transporters do not have the patience to pick and drop them laments: “The journey is always tortuous and painful. My knees have become dead from crawling over long distances,” he added. He crawls about 10 kilometres daily to the centre.
This shouldn’t be so.
This is why governments at all levels have to initiate policies with the specific needs of the disabled in mind. But making laws is one thing, enforcing them is another. Likewise, initiating policies is one thing, scrupulously implementing them is another. Governments are in the best position to make life easier for PWDs. They award most of the road contracts. They are therefore in a position to ensure that roads are designed and constructed with special provisions for the disabled. The same applies to public and private buildings; no approval should be given for major building projects, public or private, without the requisite facilities for the disabled.
PWDs who opt to go to school must be supported with the tools needed to facilitate their learning. Indeed, government must be there for them in whatever they choose to do. Banks should be able to give them loans on very liberal terms once their projects are bankable, even if it means government guaranteeing the loans. Scholarships and bursary should be within the reach of those of them who opt for education.
If we can make provision for our VIPs at the airports and many other places, nothing stops us from assisting the PWDs to make life comfortable and meaningful for them. Special buses can be provided for them where possible; otherwise operators of public transportation should be enlightened to see the need to be patient with them. Even churches and mosques hardly provide for their comfort. All of these make life unbearable for them. Helping the PWDs should be a matter of routine as is done in many caring countries and not as an afterthought. It is not about showing care or giving them fish alone, but about empowering them to catch fish themselves with minimum discomfort.