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THE PLIGHT OF DISABLED NIGERIANS AND THE NEED FOR MASS ENLIGHTENMENT
Without doubt, the problems facing the disabled people in this country are enormous and these are militating against their productivity and performance. These problems call for the campaign to sensitize government and enlighten the populace to create conducive atmosphere for social, economic and political integration of the disabled persons. These problems are carefully high lightened below.
- Transportation: The transportation system in Nigeria is in accessible to the disabled people. For instance, the ‘molue’ never stops for commuters to board and disembark. You have to be able to run, jump and trample others if you have to go in one. The infamous mad rush at bus stops makes it practically impossible for the disabled to board buses as the more privileged people out-maneuvered them out of the way and sometimes trample them. This is very disabled for disabled persons to attempt. The architectural barriers at the bus stops make it inaccessible to the disabled who cannot move his wheelchair into the waiting buses/. The railway stations are poorly equipped and the facilities provided deny the disabled persons easy accessibility. In fact, it is easier for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a disabled person to travel by rail in Nigeria while airports are equally inaccessible with all the architectural barriers one can think of.
It must be noted that transportation is very important in carrying out business transactions and dealings from place to place. If orderliness is restored, and accessibility facilities provided at our bus stops railway stations and airports the disabled will embrace life with more confidence. If there is a legislation, which provides that all vehicles imported for the purpose of public transportation must have accessibility facilities, then the disabled will be able to make remarkable impact on the very competitive world. Serious thought must be given to the disabled as they are bonafide citizens of Nigeria who want to contribute their own quota and see their fatherland excel.
- Job Opportunities: Disabled persons in Nigeria are denied job opportunities even when they are most qualified. This is serious discrimination against them in the employment market. Some people ignorantly believe that the disabled need not work because of the trouble they will go through. These people forget that working is an essential life activity even for the disabled; this is a misdirected consideration for the disabled. There have been reported cases where disabled candidates sat for written interviews, had the highest score but denied employment because the management ‘’humanely’’ think they will not be able to cope. If he could not cope, would he have come and performed very well-the best-in the interview?
There are so many disabled graduates of high qualifications roaming the streets because they have been denied the opportunity of competition. Some of them have been out rightly told to forget about some jobs when they reported. All these crimes are committed not because people are wicked, but because of their ignorance of the yearnings and aspirations of the disabled persons. Therefore, the general public needs to know what they can do for their disabled brothers and sisters without jeopardizing their right to life. More so, disabled people working in some organizations today have been found to be very efficient and perform maximally in their duties.
That is not all, if the market complexes, and shopping malls are provided with accessibility facilities, the disabled traders will be involved in economic transactions, thereby become self employed. If other relevant areas are made accessible to disabled persons, they can learn vocation and set up their own business.
- Accommodation: The architectural designs and construction of public housing estates and other community houses are exclusive and inaccessible to the disabled people. It is a horror for the disabled people to use many public buildings such as schools, libraries and state offices. High rise buildings belonging to the government are built without lifts and ramps which can facilitate the movement of the disabled using these facilities. The environmental barriers in the country are appalling. It will cost a blind man a hell of dangerous maneuvers to move around in a plan less community which has no provision for covering drainage systems. When a disabled person goes to the library and entrance stairs makes it impossible for him to gain access, he is being discriminated against. If people are properly enlightened and educated, many of these crimes committed in ignorance will be avoided. Recreational facilities are also inaccessible to the disabled person.
- Social interaction: Many negative attitudes of the general public towards disabled persons are borne out of ignorance. In fact, efforts of many people at alleviating the suffering of these people are usually misdirected. If people feel and argue that the disabled should not work, but be confined to institutions to be fed, clothed and catered for, notwithstanding the good intention, it is still discrimination. Why? Because disabled persons want to live in the society and contribute their own quota to the overall development of the country. Many attitudes of the people are borne out of inconsiderate intents.
It is not new anymore to see restaurants vendors’ openly refusing disabled persons entrance, thereby denying them access to enjoy recreational facilities freely enjoyed by others. There have been reported cases of landlords refusing to rent their properties to disabled persons and one instance where a family was ejected because a disabled relation came to live with them. The psychological trauma this disabled man went through is better imagined. This has led many disabled persons to take refuge under bridges without being thugs or criminals and this is exposing them to a lot of hazards. With adequate enlightenment, these acts of unintended callousness can be put to a stop.
- Education: Schools and other educational institutions buildings are constructed without having the disabled people in mind. The structures of the buildings and other facilities are riddled with architectural barriers to the disabled. It will be an almost impossible task for a disabled person who uses wheelchair to attend lectures on the third floor of a building without lift. Horrors of architectural barriers have been known to have discouraged many disabled persons from having education. From primary to the post-secondary level, hell awaits those disabled persons that are brave enough and prepared to face the obstacles and odds. This has greatly affected the number of educated disabled persons.
We have had cases where some principals and head teachers effused disabled candidates admission not on the basis of incompetence but for their disabilities. These people forget that given necessary encouragements disabled persons can do what able-bodied can do even better.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that the disabled people in this country are living daily in an environment that is hostile to their yearnings and aspirations. The society has unknowingly denied them all forms of integration be it social, economic or political. They have been cast aside as non-issues and subjected to a heavily tensioned psychological trauma which has rendered many of them facing the disabled which hitherto have not been given any thought need to be addressed.
COSMAS I. B. OKOLI
Mobility Aid and Appliances
Research and Development Centre