World Health Organization, in 2018 report that about 29 million of the 195 million people who comprise Nigeria’s national population were living with a disability. photo: RN Achieve
Wrong notions and myths around various forms of disability have become premises for negative societal response to affected persons.
Most of the Persons With Disability PWDs, face numerous challenges that can be categorized into social, economic, and infrastructural difficulties. Some of the common agonies they experience include: stigmatisation, limited access to education, inadequate access to health care facility and unemployment.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities defines disability as long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder a person’s full participation in society on an equal basis with others.
March 2023 World Health Organization (WHO) report indicates that an estimated 1.3 billion people of the global population experience a significant disability. This represents 16% of the world’s population, or one in every six person.
According to the report, tagged “Disability”, some persons with disabilities die up to 20 years earlier than those without disabilities. Persons with disabilities have twice the risk of developing conditions such as depression, asthma, diabetes, stroke, obesity or poor oral health.
PWDs face many health inequities arising from unfair conditions such as stigma, discrimination, poverty, exclusion from education, denial of employment opportunities as well as barriers faced in the health system itself.
Nigeria’s National Population Commission’s report in 2018 estimated the total number of people with disabilities at about 19 million and 9.6 per cent of its total population. Although this figure has been a subject of controversy, it should trigger concern in every well-meaning Nigerian.
Traditionally, it is widely believed that disability is a form of punishment for bad deeds or the result of witchcraft. Many view it as the will of God who in all his ways remains unquestionable. Disabilities have equally been traced to medical lapses many of which can be treated medically.
A 23 year old John Amara (not his real name) is a serial victim of verbal abuse, which often unsettles him psychologically and emotionally. He shares his harrowing experience.
“It occurs randomly. Sometime I will be walking along and people just make jest of me because of my sight and colour. They say some crazy things. Imagine in the night stepping on somebody and that person flairs up and throws questions at you – are you blind? Are you not seeing at all? Such words hurt so much but understanding that this is the reality in our society keeps me going”.
Breaking The Ice
Indeed, some PWDs who are breaking the ice despite their disabilities are of a rare breed. They are resolute and resolved that dehumanizing treatments from the society will not deter them from living their dreams.
Another visually-impaired student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Yusuf Afolabi said, “Well, I don’t care what those unwholesome treatments are. I have resolved not to be limited by the society”.
Education for PWDs is a matter of charity and favour. They are majorly denied access even from the family while those who survive the family obstacles have the hurdles at various academic institutions to cross.
“Several of us are denied admission, not because of poor performance in JAMB, or O’level but due to our disabilities. When I got admission into one of the institutions here, one of the heads asked the person that brought me in – why is this person here? Who gave him admission in this school, Abiola Oseni.
Gloria Nwafor, a woman with multiple disabilities, who now runs a Non Governmental Organization, Care for the Physically Challenged and Destitute Foundation, (CAPCADF), suffered abuses.
“So, I vowed to God while I was young that if he assists me to survive despite all the rejection and exclusion even from my family, I will help my colleagues to reduce the burdens of their physical disabilities. My mandate is to help the female persons with disabilities to see hope and weather the storms. I believe if I could survive all that I faced, they will survive also” But, they must be resolute not to abandon their dreams in life,” Gloria advised.
The rate of unemployment among persons with disabilities is uncommonly high as they are rarely considered for jobs regardless of how eminently qualified they are.
Denied Job Opportunities
The Chairman, Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities, JONAPWD, Enugu State Chapter, Comrade Onyebuchi Mba, took time to explain this. Our members have been denied job opportunities on several occasions. “On countless occasions, some of us passed online tests and assessments and when they are invited for physical test, the organizations see their disabilities and deny them the jobs”.
It hurts deeply. Those of them who once secured jobs have lost them because of their physical conditions. This is the sad experience of Ifeoma Anibeze. “I have lost many jobs because I could not perform certain functions expected of me”.
I have worked in some hotels. But any time they give me some tasks and I complain of my disability induced inability to perform the tasks, the next thing is sack letter.”
Laws and instruments
Ordinarily, these unwholesome treatments against PWDs would have been excusable.
But, knowing that they exist in the midst of national laws and policies as well as international instruments and conventions is more concerning.
These documents were designed to insulate PWDs from unwholesome treatments from the society which is largely hostile to them.
Addressing The Challenges
Apart from all the international human rights instruments which also protect the human rights of persons with disabilities, there are certain international human rights conventions which specifically safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities.
They are the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, (CRPD), ILO Convention concerning Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons), article 18 (4) of the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights, article 13 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
There are also non-binding international instruments including: the Declaration of the Rights of Mentally-Retarded Persons, Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons, World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, Tallinn Guidelines for Action on Human Resources Development in the Field of Disability, Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness.
Nigeria has the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, which was enacted in 2018. Section 1 (1) of the Act states that “a person with disability shall not be discriminated against on the ground of his disability by any person or institution in any manner or circumstance”.
Contravening the section is offence punishable upon conviction with a fine of N100,000 for an individual and N1,000.000 for body corporate. The fact that stigmatization, discrimination and exclusion have continued against PWDs in the presence of the above legislations, policies and instruments, is a regrettable pointer to their insufficiency.
Indeed much more is needed in the area of implementation and enforcement while efforts must be intensified to educate the populace about disability and issues associated with it.
The realization that anyone can become disabled or physically challenged at any time in life should be a warning to treat persons with disability with dignity, honour and respect.
We can create a more inclusive and accepting society that values and respects the contributions of individuals with disabilities. It does not only benefits those with disabilities but enriches the lives of everyone by promoting diversity, empathy, and understanding.
Writing by Alfred Ajayi; Editing by Julian Osamoto