Despite widespread backing for equal opportunities between disabled people and their able counterparts, in practice, the disabled population remains sidelined in social and political life. Or how would you explain a situation where someone on wheel chair cannot access banking services because of the structure of the building.
What about a deaf and dumb person who visits a worship centre and could not be ministered to, because there is no provision for a sign language interpreter who could communicate with him. The same is applicable in our hospitals; many deaf and dumb persons find it difficult to access healthcare services because of the communication barrier.
Our national libraries do not have books in Braille format for those visually challenged; the media houses do not take cognizance of these people in the manner they disperse information via their mediums.
When it comes to social gatherings or occasions, the physically challenged are also sidelined. A study I conducted in Akure with a sample size of 200 showed that nine out of 10 people have never had a disabled person in their house for a social occasion. This suggests that public support for the rights of disabled people to be part of mainstream society is not matched by everyday experience.
In the political sphere, citizens with disabilities do not have equal access to all aspects of political process, such as voting in elections, being members of political parties and engaging with political activities.
Speaking in an interview with Research Intelligence Magazine on the discourse, David Anyaele, Executive Director of Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) said “It is very unfortunate that eligible Nigerians with disabilities may not participate in the 2015 general elections due to limited provisions for them in the electoral act even as amended.
“INEC has capitalized on this to deny citizens with disabilities access to participation in the electoral process.
According to 2006 population census, more than 60% of people living with disabilities are 18 years and above and efforts to compel INEC to enhance effective participation of this category of people in the electoral processes have been unsuccessful due to absence of legal framework to protect them from exclusion.
“A situation where voters’ education is designed, planned and implemented at the exclusion of citizens with disabilities is not acceptable.”
Furthermore, he said, the disabled population remains the most neglected even in government developmental agenda. “If you watch the President’s utterances, either in private or public discussions, he hardly mentions people with disabilities.”
“The impact of President Goodluck Jonathan’s ‘Transformation Agenda’ is not being felt by people with disabilities.”
He noted that countries all over the world are measuring their ability to attend to the needs of people with disabilities in their respective countries but Nigeria is yet to have a law criminalizing the discrimination against such people.
He disclosed that the National Assembly has passed, harmonized and adopted the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities Prohibition Bill, but the Executive arm of government is still paying lip service to issues of disability.
Anyaele stated that the bill is currently undergoing ‘cleansing’ for transmission to President Goodluck Jonathan but urged the Clerk of the National Assembly to ensure that the bill is passed to the President, for assent.
His words: “I’m still surprised why this process will take us such a longtime; the ‘cleansing’ of the bill has been on since October 15, when the National Assembly had adopted the harmonized version of the bill.
“That is why I’m pleading to the Clerk of the National Assembly to look at the more than 22 million Nigerians living with disabilities, whose future depends on the passage of the bill.”
Anyaele further stressed the importance of the bill, noting that the issue of discrimination against people with disabilities will come to an end, as the bill criminalizes discrimination on the grounds of disability.
“That bill makes provision for right to education, right to health services as well as criminalizes exclusion of people with disabilities from cultural, social and political life,” he said.
However, I would recommend all religious heads, television stations to employ sign language interpreters to encourage inclusion of deaf and dumb population in their services.
Also, public buildings, such as churches, mosques, banks, shopping malls, schools, cinema houses among others should be built with ramps to enable people on wheel chair gain access.
The president should sign into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities Prohibition Bill to ensure equal participation of persons with disabilities in the transformation agenda and beyond.