Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Joke Alonge is undeterred by the odds fate has put before her. She bagged a first degree in special education at University of Ibadan (UI) in 1992; second degree in social work in 2002; and secured a Ford Foundation scholarship by which she received a certificate in community development at University of Denver, Colorado, US in 2008. Alonge currently practices social work at University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan. In this piece, she makes a case for people living with disability.
The problems faced by persons living with disability are mostly ignored by other members of the society. They are daily at the receiving end of abuses, marginalization and obvious exploitation. Opinions of members of the society about persons with disability differ.
Some view them as nature’s error. Others hold the belief that anyone with an obvious disability must have committed some serious offence in the previous world and his present condition serves as punishment. Others simply are not bothered about disability issues as real as they are.
At home, family members see them as an unfortunate beings whose bad luck can cause misfortunes for them. Friends stay away from them thereby making socialization difficult. Lecturers are insensitive about the schedule of lecture locations. Employers discriminate about fixing them up for job. People hardly welcome the idea of their children courting or marrying them and the general society is hostile about having them as full members. Government does not make laws to protect their rights.
Buildings are designed without consideration for them while access to public places like banks, offices, cinema, schools and even religious centers is very difficult. Transportation is another big issue for Nigerians with disability. A graduate disabled Nigerian who is unemployed obviously cannot afford to buy a car. The public transporter considers picking a wheelchair bound individual as a favor and so thinks that he has a choice to do it or not since there is no law protecting the interest of the disabled.
The World Health Organization (WHO) ascertained that ten per cent of every population in Africa lives with one form of disability or another. Invariably 60 percent of the Nigerian population has various forms of disability. As a result of lack of support facilities, this population, large enough to be the size of a small country is neglected. In civilized countries, this population is embraced, encouraged, accorded with dignity and fully included in the society.
Nigeria is very far from achieving this height of civilization and development despite being a signatory to several international treaties on disability rights.
One of the factors that make a society civilized is to encourage and allow someone with a disability who is interested in politics the opportunity to contest and hold a political office. To have a person with disability in government in order to represent the interest of his folks is a starting point. Under the present dispensation, disabled Nigerians are seen but not heard. Lack of recognition relegates individuals living with disability to an invisible status thereby reinforcing the inferior sense of self.
All hands must be on deck to improve the living conditions of people living with disability in Nigeria. The National Assembly should pass the age-long Disability Bill into law. It is also incumbent on Vice President Namadi Sambo to get NIA (National Institute of Architects) to henceforth design public buildings in a disability friendly manner.
All Nigerians must come to the realization that the neglected disabled population of today can contribute meaningfully to national development if properly catered for, supported and recognized. As a matter of fact, the support facilities we appeal to you to provide today might be needed by anyone in the future.
Nigeria as a sovereign nation has since entered into international law as to what is fair in the treatment of her disabled citizens. Chief among these treaties is the United Nations’ Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, (UNCRPD). She is therefore legally binding to protect the rights of her disabled citizens in specific laws in order to create a barrier free environment for all. Anything short of this is perversion of justice.