By Lawani Mikairu
The Coalition of Disability Organisations ,CODO, has flagged off an advocacy project seeking to address discrimination faced by persons with disabilities at Nigerian airports.
Speaking at a one-day sensitization programme held in Lagos yesterday one of the conveners of the event, Mr David Obinna, observed that access to airports and air travel services by persons with disabilities has been so challenging over the years, due to unfriendly facilities and flagrant disregard of their rights by airport and airline personnel.
He said a research conducted by CODO shows that there have been numerous accounts of outright denial of air travel rights, as well as humiliating and degrading treatment of persons with disabilities at the nation’s airports.
Revelations of the research, as presented by Professor Omololu Soyombo, a Professor of Sociology from the University of Lagos, show that some of the challenges encountered by persons with disabilities at the airports include difficulty in climbing the stairs to the airside due to dysfunctional elevators and ramps, difficulty in boarding the aircraft, and communication barriers due to absence of sign language.
Other challenges include poor assistance by airport and airline staff, discrimination and lack of care by other travellers, having to walk long distances to board the aircraft, absence of dedicated seats for disabled persons, and absence of disability desks at the airports, among others.
According to Soyombo, the advocacy project tagged “Accessibility of Nigerian Airports to Persons with Disabilities” is hinged on the provisions of the Act prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities which was signed into law in 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He said Section 14 of the Act demands that “all airlines operating in Nigeria must ensure accessibility of their aircraft to persons with disabilities, make available functional wheelchairs for their conveyance, and assist them to get on and off the aircraft, among other demands.”
In line with the above, the group demanded that there should be PWD-friendly restrooms fitted with necessary facilities such as adult changing tables at the airports, including dedicated seats, functional elevators, ramps and handrails, accessible ticketing portals, and designated parking lots for PWDs, among other demands.
Reacting to the demands of the group, the Terminal Manager of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Mr Gbolahan Ayinlola, who represented the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Captain Rabiu Yadudu, said the authority was already working on improving airport facilities with a view to enhancing easy access by disabled persons.
“FAAN, in collaboration with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), is already working on airport facilities to give easy access to persons with disabilities. The newly commissioned terminal at the Lagos airport, for example, has all the necessary facilities that help disabled persons gain easy access.
“We are also training our security personnel on how to treat disabled persons with care and love. This is important as it aims to address all the concerns and complaints we have received about maltreatment of disabled persons,” said Ayinlola.
The group also called on the Aviation Ministry, which is saddled with oversight functions, to ensure that all the agencies and airlines comply with the provisions of the Act prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities.
The next phase of the project is to engage the airlines, the agencies, ground handlers, and other stakeholders in the aviation industry with a view to finding solutions to some of the issues raised.