The United Nations and the World Bank’s research indicates that Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) constitute not less than 10 per cent of the world’s population.
According to the report published in 2011, in Nigeria for instance, more than 25 million persons have different forms of disability.
Apart from the report, a survey conducted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on the plight of PWDs show that there are persons living with various disabilities across the country.
In the light of this, stakeholders have called on governments at all levels to involve people living with disabilities in policy formulation and implementation.
They also call for the passage of a unified legislation that will be implementable by the Federal Government, states and local governments in addressing the challenges of PWDs.
In his view, Dr. Shehu Adebayo of the Lagos Civil Society Disability Partnership said a development process without the inclusion of people with disability input would turn to be a disservice to humanity.
He said people with disability had different and unique challenges that made them different from one other people.
“PWDs are people with extra talents, yet forgotten; when they are statutorily given opportunities they would attain their full potential and be lifted out of poverty,’’ he observed.
He, therefore, underscored the need to incorporate them in any development programme projects or policies.
Similarly, the President of Deaf Women Association of Nigeria, Abuja chapter, Mrs Helen Udoye, said inclusion of deaf women in national policies would increase awareness on the challenges of PWDs.
She solicited the need for their inclusion in economic plans, job opportunities, health services and active participation politics.
In her opinion a lawyer living with disability, Mrs Catherine Edeh, appealed to the Federal Government to initiate all-inclusive policies for the welfare of persons with disabilities.
Edeh, the founder of Voice of Disability Initiative, a non-governmental organisation, recalled that the Disability Rights Bill was passed by the 7th National Assembly.
She solicited the assent of the presidency after the bill’s review to be all-encompassing for domestication by states.
Edeh said the proposed law should address the challenges PWDs’ access to public transportation and public buildings such as courts, banks and hospitals, among others.
She also said she had hearing impairment and she needed to practise as a lawyer with the help of an interpreter in any court.
“But I cannot practise law now without an interpreter which our courts do not have; if I have to engage the services of an interpreter, I cannot afford it because it is very costly.
“I will have to pay an interpreter as high as N15, 000 per court sitting and I cannot afford it,’’ she said.
Assuring the people living with disabilities, the Chairman Joint Association of Persons with Disabilities in Lagos, Mrs Adedoyin Beyioku-Alase, said legislation should be made to develop the education sector in all tiers to provide effective learning for PWDs.
She said people should be made to embrace studying special education in higher institutions to increase the number of teachers available to teach children with special needs.
She said many deaf had apathy for visiting hospitals because they thought they would not get proper attention from medical workers in the absence of interpreters to explain their health challenges.
She also observed that in most cases, the deaf visited the hospital only when it was a matter between life and death.
Beyioku-Alase, 59, alleged that she became deaf when she was 19 years old as a result of wrong drug administration by a nurse.
“At first, I thought it was just a minor defection that would be corrected, as time went by, the reality dawned in me that I had become deaf,’’ she said.
She noted that the stigma against the deaf was still high in our society, even with the level of exposure some people had about them.
Narrating a similar experience, Mr Solomon Abiodun, a 43 year-old blind journalist who holds a master’s degree in Mass Communication, said life was easy for him while in school.
He appealed for all inclusive legislation that would encourage PWDs-friendly facilities such as hostels, lecture theatres and libraries in schools.
But the Chairman, Joint Association of Persons with Disabilities in Gombe, Malam Ali Goro, said one of the major challenges was the inability of PWDs to secure employment.
According to him, the public see the PWDs as beggars even after acquiring education, describing the development as disturbing.
‘People discriminate against us, they do not allow us to interact with them to see the talents in us; I am a good example. I am a serving councillor in my ward in Balanga Local Government Area of Gombe.
“When I was presented to the people as a candidate during our electioneering, they started chanting that they did not want a cripple to represent them,’’ he alleged.
A blind, Malam Muhammad Mustapha, 32, a secondary school teacher in Konduga, Borno, however, urged the state government to extend the gesture to other PWDs.
“There are other PWDs that are educated but have no employments, some of my friends are graduates of polytechnics and universities, but have no employment,’’ he said.
Observers note that the situation of PWDs in the north-western part of the country is not different from others.
According to them, various states governments in the region have yet to improve on the conditions of the PWDs.
They, however, note that in Kano State, there are some improvements and efforts aimed at upgrading the public facilities for the PWDs.
They observe that the state government has introduced a number of programmes and measures to cater and protect the rights of the PWDs.
According to the Deputy Commander-General, Kano State Hisbah Board, Malam Nabahani Usman, the state government has appointed a special adviser for PWDs.
He said the state government had also enacted a law prohibiting street begging as part of efforts to make PWDs become self-reliant.
But in Katsina State, Kebbi, and Zamfara, PWDs have complained about the alleged discrimination and neglect by their states governments.
The Chairman of Polio Survivors Association in Katsina, Malam Samaila Matazu, alleged that employers of labour discriminated against people with disability.
He alleged said that the employers, including the state government, had not been employing their members irrespective of their credentials.
But the state government debunked the claim, saying that the state government, apart from considering most PWDs for employment, had taken steps to ensure proper education of some of the people with disabilities in the state.
The spokesman in the Ministry of Education in the state, Alhaji Salisu Lawal, said the government had also recently raised the feeding allowance of students in its special schools.
“Feeding allowance of PWDs was increased from N80 to N100 per student at the school for the Deaf in Malumfashi and School for the Blind in Katsina.
“The schools, which have primary and secondary school sections, are completely free.
“The government provides special concession to the students in terms of transport fares during holidays to encourage them to return to school,’’ he said.
The Association of Person with Disabilities in Kebbi, also alleged similar developments, insisting that the association was not happy with the little attention they received from the state government and the public.
The chairman of the association, Malam Abu Sifiyanu, noted that since the creation of the state, there was no effort made to promote issues affecting people with disabilities even during the day set aside by the United Nations to celebrate the PWDs.
In Zamfara, the National Publicity Secretary, Amalgamated Union of Physically Challenged Persons, Alhaji Shehu Sarkin-Fada, alleged that lepers were often stigmatised and isolated.
Concerned citizens note that in the south-eastern part of the country, the condition of PWDs is not different.
Mr Ben Akabuike and his wife, Bridget, living with visual impairment and paralysis in Umuahia, said government at all levels and the society were not helping maters.
“Government should enact a law providing a reasonable percentage of job placements for people living with physical disabilities in public and private establishments,’’ he observed.
A teacher at the School for the Blind, Afara, Umuahia, pleading anonymity, said “the school does not get adequate subvention, infrastructure and social amenities are lacking.
“During the last administration, the situation in this school was worse than that of a primary school in a remote village.
“There is no light and the compound is over grown with weeds, and we are always battling with snakes and hoodlums that sneak into the premises to attack us’’.
She appealed to governments at all levels as well as public-spirited individuals to come to the aid of the school and the students.
Worried by the plight of PWDs, Principal of Basdem Memorial School for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb Isuilo, Anambra, Mrs Ebele Ichoke, therefore, called for a pragmatic plan for a better living environment for children living with disabilities.
“The school appears to be a dumping ground as most of them are not remembered by their relatives once they are brought to the school,’’ she said.
Irrespective of challenges faced by PWDs, observers insist that the public ought to ensure that every person with disability has an enjoyable and empowering experience by accommodating them in all situations.
Olaitan writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)