•Employment, public buildings inaccessible for PLWDS

From Okwe Obi, Abuja

There appears to be no end in snags confronting persons with special needs, which ranges from stigmatisation, minimal employment rate to abandonment by the society.

But one problem that is profound despite the Federal Government’s intercession is their inability to access public buildings like banks, places of worship, hotels and offices.

Most of these structures were designed without recourse to people with disabilities. Even commerical flights and public buses are insensitive to their yearnings.

The Federal Government, in 2019, enacted a law that birthed the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities. The Act also has a five-year moratorium mandating public buildings to be remodelled to accommodate these persons with special needs for inclusivity.

But, about one year to the end of the moratorium, little has been done to that effect. Buildings such as the National Assembly and Federal Secretariat in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and some agencies, still remain untouched. 

These persons, some of whom hate to be aided and be seen as social liability and misfits, still depend on friends, relatives or passersby to assist where and when necessary. 

In fact, in February 2022, a civil society organisation, Disability Rights Protection Initiative, dragged Dana Air Limited before Justice F.O. Giwa-Ogunbanjo of the Federal High Court, Enugu, for alleged discrimination against a physically challenged passenger, Gloria Nwogbo.

Nwogbo had alleged that the airline, on August 5, 2021, prevented her from boarding its flight at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, on the grounds that she was disabled after she had purchased a ticket and obtained her boarding pass.

Worried by some of the happenings, the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), organised a three-day seminar, to nudge relevant authorities to respect the Act. The theme of seminar was, ‘2023 General Elections and Beyond: Creating the future we desire for citizens with disabilities.’

The CCD’s executive director, David Anyaele, said it was not enough for financial institutions, places of worship and legislation to have gigantic edifice that segregate persons with special needs, but that it should be all-inclusive.

According to Anyaele, it was also not in the character of these people to picket offices to do the needful which necessitated the group to embark on a peaceful sensitisation and appeal to the public. 

He said: “We have one year remaining for the moratorium to expire in which we expect all public buildings in this country to be disability friendly. We are also expecting that the rights of persons with disabilities will increase.

“We also hope that the support for national disability commission will increase in order for them to get the necessary resources required to ensure that rights of persons with disabilities are protected and integrated into socio-economic standard of the society.  What we are doing here today is to remind ourselves of where we are coming from. 

“We have had conversations with European partners and we are sharing with them areas they need to pay attention to the needs of persons with disabilities and they have been responding, guiding us and advising us on opportunities that are available to us, in order to progress and to ensure that the content of the Act is fully implemented.

“The complain rate remains weak in the sense a public building like the federal secretariat in Abuja, has remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. There are some areas they have lifts. We are saying that there should be access beyond lift. 

“If there is a lift and no stable toilet, the lift is inconsequential because if a woman on a wheelchair is pressed where will she go to ease herself? 

“If a woman with disability wants to use the restroom, what will she do? Therefore, if there is access to the building and there is no accessible restroom such a building remains inaccessible. Beyond federal secretariat, we have discovered that most of the private buildings around the town are not accessible. 

“Part of the things we are doing is to sensitise all Nigerians that there is a law that prohibit such buildings being erected. The people who are responsible for approvals, we are also drawing their attention to the problems. 

“We invited institutions and professional bodies responsible in designing engineering-related  buildings. And they have also advised us on what to do. 

“This year is going to be a busy year for us. They are certain things attached to the violation of this law. And we do not want anybody to pay penalty. 

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“We want people to comply. We hear some stories of what it has to do with the cost of readjusting or remolding buildings to be accessible. 

“It is more than 1% of the total cost of one building. So, using excuses around the cost is not viable. If it is less than one per cent it is not a cost that should scare anybody.”

Speaking on the expiration of the moratorium, he said: “We are not waiting for the moratorium to expire. It is for the remolding of buildings or rehabilitation of buildings to comply with these laws. We can sue anybody who discriminate against persons with disabilities.

“What we want from government is that this moratorium that all MDAs must take steps to put their house in order. We will not like to picket any ministry. 

“We will not like to use the court to seal public buildings. We do not want to seal the National Assembly for not being accessible.

“We do not want to seal the federal secretariat for not being accessible. What we want is for all public buildings in this country to be accessible for persons with disabilities.

“When we talk about some sections of the law where they are moratorium which is about five years, it is just for the readjusting public buildings to make it accessible. 

“When we say it should be accessible, we mean that the lift you are going to construct should be disability-friendly which can serve the blind and the deaf. How does a lift serve the blind? When you press the lift and it has audio inside, it speaks and tell the deaf the floor he or she is. 

“The number of the floor where you are is written in numeric. If you are blind and you feel the figure with your hand you will know the floor that you are. 

“This is a good standard that serves all. Making it accessible is all-inclusive and encompassing.”

He lamented that the most challenging problem “is discrimination” which is pervasive. 

“And discrimination is about norms and negative value in the society coming from religion and traditional beliefs. For us to pull it down, we need the state actors and the political will on the part of the state,” he said.

On his part, the Inspector General (IGP) of Police, Usman Alkali-Baba, said the Force was working to meet the five per cent employment reservation for Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) in accordance with the provisions of the National Disability Law.

Represented by the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Administration, Aina Adesola, Alkali Baba, said the present administration of the police was disability-friendly and working to enhance police relations with the community in Nigeria.

“I am very sure that the present administration has done and is doing almost everything to make sure that there is a cordial relationship between the police and the disability community. There is a standing instruction in every command that the police act swiftly to the contacts from the disability community, especially with regards to complaints.

“And as regards the employment of disabled people, it is relative and I am very sure that there are disabled people in the Nigeria Police, though they may not be in operations. But in other departments because of the disability which is relative because it is not that we have to take them from all clusters of disabilities.

“Like the blind, the physically challenged, however, there are many people with disabilities and the force is working to fully implement and execute the 5 per cent empowerment reservation for PWDs,’’ he said.

Also, director of human resources, Ministry of Aviation, Nkechi Nwakwocha, said that the aviation ministry was working tirelessly to ensure ease of access to airports for PWDs. According to her, there are already existing structures in place at the airports that are very accessible to PWDs and others.

Nwakwocha said: “There are steps, and we have smooth ramps to wheel those on the wheel. We have toilet facilities in places and special toilets for PWDs and as a matter of fact, there are major facilities reconstruction going on in the various major airports in the country.

“All these things are done to ensure that PWDs don’t have problems in accessing or making movements around and within the airports.”

She said escalators and elevators have been provided to aid movements and to eliminate discrimination. She added that facilities in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano airports were of international standards and similar facilities would be replicated in other airports across the country.

She said that arrangements were underway and contracts had been awarded, adding that all airports in the country would meet international standards.