The Nation (Nigeria)

Enable them

Go ernmen and he ocie ho ldempo er hedi abledra her hanpi hem

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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.

‘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’

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