By Gbenga Aderanti
In spite of the signing into law of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 23 2019, life is still far from being easy for People with Disabilities (PWDs). Most organisations are skeptical about offering them employments despite that the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and imposes sanctions including fines and prison sentences on those that contravene it. It also stipulates a five-year transitional period for modifying public buildings, structures and automobiles to make them accessible and usable for people with disabilities.
But the several efforts made by the government to integrate PWDs into the society are only in the realm of policies as only a few private and public organisations are willing to adhere to the law.
And while there are inhibitions facing PWDs here and there, some of them have thought it wise to come together and confront the inhibitions. One of those instances is the Iyanu Oluwa Vulnerable Group Centre situated in Osogbo, the Osun State capital.
There was an air of ability in disability when our correspondent visited the centre. The skill and dexterity displayed by persons with disabilities at the centre clearly belied their physical conditions. In different parts of the large hall at the centre, they were busy with one form of vocation or the other.
While it is widely believed that people with disabilities are prone to exhibiting some forms of psychological distress that was not apparent at the centre when our correspondent visited. The PWDs exuded hope and willingness to survive in spite of all odds. And unless you get close to them, you would never know the war they are waging with one disability or the other.
Sitting quietly in the corner of a big hall at the centre, Oguntile Ayoola, was in his own world as he shaped the sole of a pair of shoes he was about to supply to one of his numerous customers. He looked every bit the boss as other PWDs in the hall watched with rapt attention as he worked on the shoes.
His face beaming with a smile, he crawled towards the reporter on sighting him and warmly welcomed him into the hall. Crawling is a permanent feature of his life, particularly because transporters do not have the patience to take him in their buses. Consequently, he is forced to crawl over about 10 kilometres to get to the centre.
“The journey is always tortuous and painful,” Ayoola said. “My knees have become dead from crawling over long distances.” Yet he is so focused on life that the taunts, jeers, insults and sympathy he gets from the people around him make no difference.
Ayoola was not born a cripple. And he did not become one until a visit to the hospital as a toddler rewrote his life history. “According to what my parents told me,” he said, “I was about a year and half old when I found myself in this condition. I had developed a high fever and my mother took me to the Hospital. There I was given an injection and I became paralysed after a short while. I would say it was the injection that caused my problem.”
He is grateful that the people he grew up with never treated him as a person with disability. “In fact, we used to go into the bush together to pick snails. That really helped me. And because right from the time I was young, I was funny and jovial, that made it impossible to know whether people were poking fun at me,” he said.
He recalled that his parents spent a lot of money to make him walk again and even had to abandon their businesses and vocations at some point, all to no avail. And when raising money for his education became a problem, he had to stop schooling.
“If there had been an opportunity for me to further my education, I would have proceeded further,” he said.
Not wanting to depend on people for their means of livelihood, Ayoola and a few other persons with disabilities approached the Community and Social Development Project (CSDP), a World Bank assisted programme, for assistance, and their request gave birth to the building of vocational centres where PWDs ply their trades and also help in training other persons with disabilities.
So, while some other persons in Ayoola’s condition are out eking out living through begging, he and a few others in his shoes have shed the toga of destitute by engaging in shoe making; a vocation that has actually paid off.
Asked how many pairs of shoes the group was capable of producing in a day, Ayoola said: “The number of shoes the group produces on a weekly basis depends on the type of requests we get from would-be buyers. Some shoes are more difficult to make than others.
“We take our time to make shoes that will be good and appealing to our customers. If it is palm sandals, I can do two in a day.”
Besides surviving on a vocation, Ayoola believes he will still stand up one day and walk with his two legs.
“I am a Christian. I go to church and read the Bible. I believe that there is nothing God cannot do,” he said.
Recalling his frustrations as a person with disability, Ayoola said: “If not for my condition, I would have been able to hustle more and things would have been better than this. But as a man that is close to God, the spirit always tells me to look at those with two legs who are hustling and have not made it. That alone makes me not to bother about it.
“At times, I have to be unnecessarily stubborn to get things done. People like me can’t stand up for the person at the counter to see me, each time I go to the bank. I always need someone to help me, and normally they would tell me to exercise patience. But when the patience becomes unbecoming, I become impatient and insist that I should be answered.
“If every other thing does not make me remember that I am a person with disability, boarding a commercial vehicle reminds me that I have some limitations. But the consolation is that at the end of the day, I always get someone that would take me to my destination.
“Because I use a wheelchair, it is an extra burden for them to help me disembark with my wheelchair. That is probably why they hate to take us in their vehicles.”
Ayoola, however, believes that disability is not a license to beg, saying that God has made special provisions for persons with disabilities.
He said: “God has compensated us with sharp brains. Persons with disabilities who do not use their brains will continue to beg. As I am, there is no place I cannot crawl to. I work and hustle to survive, not beg. In fact, begging is not an option for me.
“Some persons with disabilities beg because they are lazy or because they can’t persevere. They do not have the will power to work. When I was younger, I used to accept monetary gifts from people. But it got to a stage where I stopped accepting such gifts.
“Some of such gifts could be diabolical gifts and could debar one’s progress. Realising this made me stop accepting monetary gifts from people except it is someone I know very well. But if I don’t know you and you dash me money, forget it, I won’t accept it.”
Ayoola also recalled how he was ignored and abandoned while trying to purchase a recharge card from a shop because the owners of the shop thought he wanted to seek alms.
He said: “Their attitude really grieved me. I talked to them to the extent that one elderly woman started begging me. The most painful aspect is that the owner of the shop was still behaving as if what he did was right.
‘What you don’t have power over, you have to accept’
No stranger would suspect that petite Olayisade Agboola could not walk as she sat in her cozy shop at the vocational centre for the vulnerable. She has not allowed her physical condition to prevent her from aiming high. Aside from the provision shop she manages, she is also into tie and dye.
Olayisade was simply one of the best hands at the centre. Sometime last year, some of their works were on exhibition during a programme organised by the CSDP and their tie and dye and sandals attracted a lot of patronage.
Decked in hijab and a flowing gown, she was warm and full of life.
“Finding yourself in this condition is not easy,” she said with a smile.
“Seeing your mates moving here and there and achieving a lot of things while you are in this condition is not encouraging at all, and ever since I found myself in this condition, I have been trying as much as possible to make ends meet and not to rely on anybody.”
The legs of Olayisade who holds an OND in Accounting from the Federal Polytechnic, Ede were not crippled until a medical condition altered her physical appearance. Like many other people with disabilities, she is not happy that most institutions, both private and government owned, are not PWD friendly.
While her wheelchair is always handy when she is going to places like a bank, it is always a tug of war transacting businesses here because of the twin hostilities of customers and bank officials.
“What I do is drop my wheelchair outside the banking hall and crawl inside. The same thing happens at polling units. There are lots of things we want the government to do for us.
“At times you go out and see people running after you to give you alms. I don’t like it. At times you get to the bank or other places and you get this ‘just move aside, we will attend to you later’ kind of attitude. They don’t treat you with respect.
“What you don’t have power over, sometimes you have to accept.”
She says she is getting used to it because of the orientation that members of PWD are getting. Besides, she said, the members have written to banks and some other institutions on the need to assist people with disabilities.
“But for my condition, I would have loved to be an actress. I sing, I dance and I love drama,” Olayisade told The Nation.
She disclosed that she once taught of suicide because of frustration.
She said: “It happened once. My parents insulted me and the taught came to me that I should just commit suicide, but another inner thought stopped me. It said where I’m taking you to is greater than this. Since then, I never thought of such a thing.”
‘Co-traders attend to customers on my behalf’
Madam Lawal Rasidat Folashade, a deaf trader and mother of two, who is an expert in tie and dye, is also into private business.
She also admitted that things have been tough for PWDs.
She said: “My greatest challenge is my business. Unfortunately, people mock those of us that are deaf. Persons with disabilities are finding things difficult.”
She told The Nation that whenever there is lull in business, her husband, who she met when they were in school, always comes to her rescue.
Folashade, a hairdresser who also sells provision and soft drinks “so as to feed my kids and pay their school fees,” said that many of her co-traders cooperate with her by helping her to attend to her customers.
There’s ability in disability —NAPWD scribe
The head of Iyanu Oluwa Vulnerable Group and the Secretary Joint National Association of Persons With Disabilities (JONAPWD, Osun Chapter), Adetiba Lateef Olalekan, said that learning from the experience of persons with disabilities abroad, there is much that they too can contribute to the society.
He said: “There is ability in disability. That is why we came under one umbrella to contribute our own quota to the development of our state and our country.
“There are things that we can contribute to the society and the society will benefit. Some of us are into kampala, tie and die, and embroidery. Some are into shoemaking, some design bags and help eventually came and they set up this centre for us.
“With the completion of the centre, our people started doing their work, and from the proceeds here, our members were able to take care of their family members.”
To facilitate ease of doing business and mobility, the CSDP also bought tricycles for the centre.
Fortunately when the sales of what they produce at the centre drop, they rely on what they make from business.
“During the festive seasons, we have a glut while after the festive seasons we experience a lull. But we still cope and we don’t have to beg,” he said.
Describing the first 10 years of his life as hellish, Olalekan said: “I was paralysed, I could not walk, and my parents were the ones doing everything for me. It was so bad that one of my legs could not function at all, but my family were firm in their belief that I would walk again, and I eventually did.
“There was nothing wrong with me when I was young. I was up and doing. Along the line, I shouted from my sleep and one of my legs became paralysed. For 10 years, I was going from one hospital to the other.
“Doctors did a series of x- rays but they could not find anything wrong with me. We resorted to traditional methods and I eventually became okay after 10 years.”
Hope in the air
10 states have passed the Disability Bill into Law. They include Kano, Jigawa, Anambra, Kogi, Ondo, Lagos, Ekiti, Kwara and Bauchi. Olalekan believes that things would get better for the vulnerable as some states have passed the bill into law. According to him, Osun State is also working on passing the bill into law. “As at last year when they did employment, five per cent was reserved for the PWDs,” he said.
He recalled that 20 PWDs were employed in each of the local government areas in Osun State through the federal government.
He also said some members of the PWDs in Osun State benefited from the N500,000.00 given as grants to youths by the Federal Government.
“Our members were also considered in the ongoing Teaching Service Commission (TESCOM) exercise, even though I participated personally. I passed the interview.
“They are even considering a special interview for PWDs despite the fact that the government has given us our own percentage.”
“Lagos State is one of the states in Nigeria that has been doing something to lift persons with disabilities.
“A special place has been created by the Lagos State Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) for wheelchair and clutches users. A part has been dedicated for them not only to sit but keep their wheelchairs.
“We want other state governments to make movement easier for persons with disabilities.”