The Nigerian constitution recognizes the civic rights of all citizens, but unfortunately, people with Disabilities (PWDs) are prevented from fully enjoying these basic rights because of their physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments (and in certain cases, disabilities). In other words, we have a situation whereby disability becomes an impediment to enjoying certain rights in the society.
One of the most obvious ways of assessing performance of a state in regards to enabling access for its citizenry is to examine infrastructure – buildings and other public spaces that are established to provide public services. How effective are Nigeria’s public facilities in guaranteeing equitable access to ALL?
A report by Centre for Citizens with Disability provides the answer through a comprehensive survey of the current situation on access to public facilities by PWDs in Nigeria.
The group investigated 12 federal ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) that have direct responsibility for providing service to the public. The states covered were; Gombe, Benue, Kaduna, Enugu, Rivers, Lagos and Abuja. The ministries included those of Justice (MoJ), Education (MoE), Health (MoH), Information (MoI), Women Affairs and Social Development (MoWaSD), Youth Development (MoYD), Sport (MoS), Transport (MoT), Works and Housing (MoWH) and Labour (MoL). The other government institutions included were the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and a parastatal – the Subsidy Investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).
The study revealed that PWDs face challenges in gaining access to public buildings and institutions that are meant to provide basic services to citizens.
The facilities were assessed on the basis of the availability of ten (10) basic features important for enabling PWD access to their facilities; namely: existing policy on disability. ramp, sidewalk, map, instruction in braille/tactile or audio, suitability of toilet facilities, accessibility of the reception area, automated doors, Doors wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, and rails on both sides of Stairs.
According to the research, Abuja and Lagos barely made it over the 50% passmark at 63.3% and 50.8%, respectively. This is in spite of their strategic importance as the seat of government (FCT) and the commercial nerve centre of the country (Lagos). The other states scored very low; especially Kaduna in the northWest and Gombe representing the Northeast. The results clearly indicate that access of PWDs to services is not an important consideration for many of the MDAs.
MDA officials interviewed pointed to the fact that most of the structures that house the MDAs were constructed a long time ago, when consideration for the access of PWDs was at the minimum. A key informant observed that: “the design structure of the secretariat is the same in all the states. So if there should be any amendment, it has to be approved at the national level because all directives come from the national level.”
Most of the offices of MDAs surveyed were housed in buildings with bungalow sections, and buildings with storeyed sections. But unfortunately, not all MDAs housed in storeyed structures had elevators, which are very important in providing access to PWDs.
MDAs in Gombe and Kaduna were housed in bungalows and thus, making for easier access for PWDs. Buildings with bungalow sections (that are more PWD-friendly) made up only 29.17% while the greater numbers (55.21%) were storeyed buildings.
MDAs in other states had a combination of both styles of buildings. While Abuja and Benue offered the highest number of storeyed buildings (12); Abuja storey buildings were all constructed with elevators (100%). But whether the elevators actually work, is another question. Generally, given the challenges in Nigeria with electricity supply, poor maintenance culture and sometimes crises in the supply of fuels to run generators, bungalow-style service provision points would be the natural preference to assure unhindered access by PWDs.
Unfortunately, none of the 12 storey buildings in Benue State were constructed with elevators; thus raising serious issues about the access of PWDs. Lagos and Rivers states also have a large number of storey buildings (11) but while Rivers had nine of these constructed with elevators, Lagos had only six of these buildings constructed with elevators.
Percentage of storey buildings with elevators by state shows that Abuja scored the highest at 100%; followed by Rivers State with 81.8%; Lagos with 54.5% and Enugu with 28.57%.Lack of funds and incessant power outages were cited by public servants as some of the reasons why infrastructure such as elevators are absent. Though most MDAs are housed in buildings with multiple floors (55.21%), a ministry official explained that PWDs service-points are usually located on the lower floors. The official said that besides, there are instructional leaflets to guide PWDs to the service points. However, this appears to be a fundamental contradiction given that data from the survey points to the total absence of braille/tactile/audio information in all the MDAs.
One of the informants explained thus: A friend of mine who visited me last week could not access my office to have a discussion with me because my office was not accessible. As I was helping him up the stairs, he told me he felt humiliated as a human being going through such an ordeal. My friend asked: “Imagine if there was no one who could help me up the stair case to a public office like this?”
On availability of Policy on Disability: the report stated that apart from Lagos State where 10 out of the 12 MDAs surveyed had a policy in place, the performance of all the other states was extremely low on this. Abuja and Benue were at par, with 3 MDAs out of the 12 surveyed having in place policies to guide their institutions in responding to the needs of PWDs. Two States (Enugu and Gombe) had one each while all the MDAs surveyed in Kaduna and River States had none!
The absence of a policy on disability in the majority of MDAs surveyed is a pointer to the fact that disability issues are likely not to be in consideration in planning and other processes of the institutions. While having a policy does not necessarily mean that it is being implemented, it certainly points to the fact that there are legal instruments in place to guide decisions and actions, when opportunities open up, it also means that even if the MDAs are making efforts to address the needs of PWDs in one way or the other, service provision will be based on sentiments or perceived as a charitable act.
In making Public Buildings Safe for PWD, there is a need to take cognisance of the diversity of needs. For example, the blind need support structures such as Braille/ tactile /audio recordings to find their way around while the deaf will certainly require sign language; those on wheel chair need facilities such as ramps, automated doors etc.
In Availability of Sidewalks: Enugu, Kaduna and Rivers states were very poor in the provision of this facility, which is understandable considering that these states also lack policies on disability. Because Lagos scored the highest in terms of making sidewalks available, may lead one to the conclusion that availability of policy instruments in Lagos MDAs may have also guided and influenced the construction of MDAs office buildings in the State. The case of Benue that had 3 MDAs with disability policies and 8 sidewalks also supports this thinking.
Suitability of Toilets: Abuja FCT led on this indicator with 2 facilities followed by Enugu (1) and Lagos (1). The other states did not feature any MDAs with disability-friendly toilets. One of the MDA officials, a librarian observed: “As for the rest-room, there are no special restrooms for them (PWDs) here. What we do is that we allow them use my own since it is close to the hall at the ground floor level where they read, rather than taking them far to those used by other members of the public.”
Availability of Ramps: Lagos State had the most MDAs with ramps – seven of them; followed by Enugu with 3. The other MDAs had only one or two or none. Ramps are important in providing access for PWDs. As one of the respondents explained, “For PWDs who work in this ministry, we do not have ramps here to ease their entry. So, to be honest (you can see the multiple staircases here), some of our staff and even visitors coming who have disability usually struggle to get in here; especially those on wheelchair.” Another respondent commented regarding the use of library facilities by PWDs. “Yes, they have been coming but not as much as the able bodied even though this library is for the use of all.” When asked how PWDs access the office building, the respondent replied thus: As you can see, there are provisions for ramps at the ground floor. The library is in two sections: the ground and the upper floor. The ground floor is mainly for children though, but PWDs do join them because they can’t use the staircase. So each time PWDs come in, the librarians go down and attend to them. This says a lot about barriers to access caused by the structure of the office buildings of MDAs that provide service. Adult PWDs are clumped together with children. One can imagine the grumpy attitude of the librarian who has to keep going down and up the staircase every time a client with disability shows up. No wonder, as the librarian observed, many PWDs don’t access the service compared to the numbers of ablebodied persons who do.
Availablity of automated doors: None of the MDAs had automated doors and only MDAs in Abuja, all 12 of them, had doors wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. For the majority of others, clients on wheelchairs will need to be aided to get off the chair, perhaps fold the wheelchair to gain entry. This process can be not only cumbersome but also inconvenient and even embarrassing.
Abuja and Lagos scored highest in terms of providing accessible reception areas. The reception is usually the first point of engagement with a brand and many clients form their opinion of a brand by the experience in the reception area. It is particularly important that PWDs gain access at the reception areas of service providers (with ease) so as to receive necessary directions and to be informed about how to access specific services.
It is clear that virtually all the States were weak on one variable or the other and even where accessibility is provided, it is quite limited. For instance, Lagos was strong on the score of accessibility of its reception areas (7) but very weak in the provision of automated doors (0) and doors wide enough for wheelchairs (0). So, although the reception areas were accessible to those able to gain successful entry into the building, wheelchair users would not be able to access the reception areas without having to be assisted out of their chairs and aided to enter. This certainly is inconvenient.
Also, Enugu state MDAs provided five (5) accessible reception areas but could not provide instructional guides and automated doors for its MDAs. Instruction in Braille/Tactile/Audio: Sadly, none of the surveyed States had an entry on this variable. This calls for concerted efforts to achieve change.
However, the group called for modifications of all inaccessible infrastructures and that Universal Design must be applied to all new infrastructures built. Also, policy measures should be put in place to guide against any form of discrimation against PWDs.