BY FUNMI AJUMOBI & ESTHER ONYEGBULA

Dr Yinka Akindayomi is the Director and founder of the Children’s Developmental Centre (CDC), a Lagos-based facility that provides diagnostic assessments, treatment, vocational training, and other social services to more than 600 children and young adults with autism spectrum disorders.

Akindayomi is the vice chairman Local Organising Committee of the first International Conference on Disabilities Lagos 2015 holding 22-26 June in Lagos.

In this interview, she speaks on the upcoming gathering of stakeholders, services providers, professionals in partnership with International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Development Disabilities (IASSIDD) to seek ways to possibly find lasting solutions to disability issues in Nigeria.

What is the conference all about?

The International Conference on Disabilities Lagos 2015 is a conference that is bringing international organisations, international associations for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Development Disabilities (IASSIDD) in partnership with local organisations, consultants, service provider to have a better understanding about how to best serve people with disabilities. The theme of the conference is, “Improving Access and Building Capacity”. The conference is aimed at improving access and building capacity for people with disabilities. We are not just helping and supporting that population but we also are helping ourselves to add meaning and value for the Nigerian people.

What informed the theme of the conference?

I think we looked very deeply as to what we want to trade on the international platform and what we came up with is that the various sectors we have in Nigeria like health, education, social welfare and legislature should all come together to give people with disabilities better access within the sector for   better progress.

Though, the main focus of this event is intellectual and mental disabilities, for Nigeria we have decided that it is about disabilities first. Thereafter we can sort ourselves out.

Is the conference coming because the government hasn’t done enough for people living with disabilities?

So that we don’t batter the outgoing government before the incoming government, the truth is that they haven’t done enough for people with disability. I always tell people that if you don’t look out for the most vulnerable in the society you are not looking after yourself either. We have to bring it down here and lay it on the table that we can actually do more. It is a great opportunity for the incoming government to pick up some of the things that we have said and advocated for.

What would be your agenda for the new government as regards persons with disabilities?

Yinka Akindayomi

The great thing about this new government is that their manifesto has a whole section that deals with social change; this area captures the elderly and the most vulnerable as well as people with disabilities which is actually commendable because I haven’t seen that in the manifesto of other political parties. However it goes beyond that, first of all you start with legislature because there is the disability act that has not been passed. Also we need to think about investment in the sector, the disability sector is actually a huge sector. If we don’t invest in the sector and say there must be   laws, policies and no fund to back it up, the laws and policies come to nothing because nobody cares. This time we want to see the new government invest in the sector, help motivate the rest of us and form what is called in business, Public, Private Partnership

Lagos state for me is a brilliant state because it is the only state in Nigeria that has a special people law. However if it is not back up with funding, it comes to nothing.

 At the end of the conference what do you intend to achieve?

I think that at the end of the day the conference will begin to point the light as to where Nigeria has to be as concerning disability issues.

At the level of the United Nations which is global, have we ratified it? Have we signed the declaration, I don’t know?

The other thing is that we need them to monitor what the government is doing, get ourselves organised as pressure groups to ensure that the government implement policies that impact positively on families with child or children with disability. It is of no use implementing laws and policies that no one feels the impact. I am not a political person and I am sure other people will take up some of these issues that I have raised but as a parent and a mother of a child with disability, I haven’t seen any impact.

Are you in support of tax rebate for parents of children with disability?

Yes. I am in support and would advocate any system that can relieve the financial pressure of people living with disability. Although people would say because Nigeria is a corrupt country, it will be abused, but we have to try. If we say we can’t do what is done for instance in the UK, if you have a child with disability, you get a certain amount of money to help you with that child, you will not only get the money in cash but you can also get it in kind. If your child needs respite care, diapers, or needs to access special schools, these things are made available to that family to reduce the pressure. But in Nigeria we have nothing; families with persons living with disabilities are really strong families, in spite of all the challenges and lack of facilities and struggle.

What effect will this have on people with disabilities?

This is the first one and it is going to be an annual thing. The conference makes provision for parents of children with disability; that is parents’ forum, to enable them participate in the conference itself. Initially, just like everything counts, we are not going to feel that impact immediately. It is not like you see someone with disability and you give money to that person to sort out their issues.

But this conference has a long term effect; it is a project that will take time to also evolve because of the peculiarities of Nigeria. If we have the political will maybe it won’t be five years. It might be a year, or two years. This is just a struggle that we shouldn’t just think of the short term goal.

What are the makeup of the parents, are they elites, average or grassroots parents?

Again, I know that we would want the grass root parents to be involved, immediately. Sometimes it doesn’t work like that. What we are looking at is getting the elites, middle class, business class parents, as many as possible. Sometimes if you have a conference and you bring parents who don’t understand what you are talking about, how does that help them, then they become even more confused than they initially were; because most times these grassroots people are looking at the short term value benefit and what they can get from it now. Sometimes you try as much as you can to start with those families that can understand a little bit of what you are talking about because you want those particular family to key into what you are telling them. From there you begin to build up a strong parent-to-parent family support. From my experience, it is those elitist parents that influence the grassroots parents from the lower economic strata.

Disclaimer

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