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Time to start the real disability conversation…


After23119…let’s start the conversation

By Uri Ngozichukwuka*

The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria finally signed the Disability Bill which had spent approximately 18 years between the two houses of the federal legislature and the executive.  In other words, disability legislative advocacy was stunted for that long and the nation came behind over 33 African countries in adhering to the Convention  for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD it had signed to be part of in 2010.
According to statistics, 15% of the world live with one form of disability or the other. That’s about one billion people which automatically translates to the highest minority group in the world. Here in Africa, over 52 million people live with disabilities.  Our dear country is home to about 25m of those.  In other words, almost half of Africa’s persons with disabilities are Nigerians.
Why it took us this long to get a bill signed to protect the rights and dignity of these persons is not the crux of this discourse.  We have a bill that was signed on the 23rd of January 2019.
It is akin to the mood that the afro-pop  reggae group, Third World sang about in their hit song: “Now that we’ve found love what are we gonna do with it”? Indeed the bill has addressed major issues no doubt, such that now the question is how do we begin the inclusion journey.  It’s indeed a journey. And in so many areas too.
Let’s look at public infrastructure… Here the bill provides for a five year transitional period within which public buildings, structures or automobiles are to be modified to be accessible to, and usable by per sons with disabilities including those on wheelchairs. It further states that before a public structure is constructed, its plans shall be inspected by relevant authorities to ensure that the plan conforms with the building code.
There is no doubt that this bill will certainly bring about a colossal infrastructural overhaul to existing public buildings like banks, churches, mosques, government offices, etc.
It’s interesting to note that the late Adegboyejo Abioye started infrastructural advocacy and influenced the building of ramps in public places and history will forever be kind to him in that regard.  But like it’s often said, persons with disabilities tell their stories better because they wear the shoes.  I guess being a person with mobility disability, he could feel the pain and noted the infrastructural gap of a country moving into the twenty first century .
A glance at the ramps brings a really hopeful and satisfactory feeling of ” yes this is infrastructural inclusion ” However, an even closer look reveals our ramps are half ramps. They are  built to  only allow for the wheel chairs to ascend but totally lacking in a gentle, descending manner. In other words, persons on wheelchair still need to be carried along with their wheel chairs into the buildings they intend to enter. 
There is also the issue of the banks where the revolving doors are not wheel chair friendly.  So persons on wheelchair still need to get to the bank wait outside and get a third party to transact their businesses for them . This is a lot of financial exposure which has cost so many to lose their meager funds to thieves. 
While not asking all banks to do a total overhaul of all of their facilities overnight, but with proper planning there could be designated banks branches in every local government area to meet such needs.
The ATMs are also not inclusion-compliant.  Banks should also begin to critically look into WHEELCHAIR-compliant ATM machines and AUDIO  ATM machines for the visually impaired
THE long quest for the disability bill has seen the advocacy groups and resource persons working in the inclusion space come up with solutions that will help integrate them into the main stream and bridge the huge inclusion gap. 
Government and organisations should look out for such to work with to create a better society where the right to the dignity of life for all is embodied

Uri Ngozichukwuka is Convener of the Empathy Driven Women International Initiative, EDWIIN

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