The 3rd of December every year has been set aside by the United Nations as international day for persons with disabilities all over the world. This day is used to celebrate, identify and readjust things that are not done right for persons with disabilities especially in Nigeria.
This year’s international day for persons with has as its theme: “NOT ALL DISABILITIES ARE VISIBLE”. The theme focuses on spreading awareness and understanding of disabilities that are not immediately apparent, such as mental illness, chronic pain or fatigue, sight or hearing impairments, diabetes, brain injuries, neurological disorders, learning differences and cognitive dysfunctions, among others.
According to the WHO World Report on Disability, 15 per cent of the world’s population, or more than 1 billion people, are living with disability. Of this number, it is estimated 450 million are living with a mental or neurological condition— and two-thirds of these people will not seek professional medical help, largely due to stigma, discrimination and neglect.
Another 69 million individuals are estimated to sustain Traumatic Brain Injuries each year worldwide, while one in 160 children is identified as on the autism spectrum.
These are just some examples of the millions of people currently living with a disability that is not immediately apparent, and a reminder of the importance of removing barriers for all people living with disability, both visible and invisible.
In Nigeria, it is obvious that the persons with disabilities are battling with the discrimination in marriage, leadership position, political appointment, just to mention a few.
It is a known fact that the physically challenged persons in our country are reduced to object of pity, charity and are often demoralized with low self-esteem which is characterized by the way they are treated.
We are therefore, calling on all stakeholders, the governments from federal, state to local government to take the welfare and wellbeing of persons with disabilities as their major priority. The federal government should expedite action to pass the bill into law that takes care of persons with disabilities rights and this law should be domesticated in the 36 states of the federation. This should be backed by establishing an agency or commission that should be managed by persons with disabilities as there is a saying that “nothing about us without us”.
We want to use this medium to commend the Governor of Ondo State, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu for setting up the agency for persons with disabilities and appointing a visually impaired in the person of Mr Sanmi Olorundare as the chairman and other members who are physically challenged as well as the Lagos State Government who also has the same agency and other few states. We are passionately appealing that this kind gesture should be replicated in all over the country so that persons with disabilities can heave a sigh of relief.
Let me quickly draw attention to some great potential that is deposited in some persons with disabilities. Cobhams Asuquo, a visually impaired person with his music production, advert and jingles has come to limelight that even the international community are giving him recognition. He was recently made one of the ambassadors of UNICEF.
Opeolu Akinola a visually impaired ICT guru and addicted advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities through his outstanding work in the field of disabilities, has been able to win the Chevening Scholarship which is meant for leaders to study his master degree in the United Kingdom.
Therefore, if our government, NGOs, religious bodies, professional bodies can encourage persons with disabilities, their potentials can be a source of blessing and prosperity to the nation. Let me add that the religious organization should make their books and written work available in Braille and audio format to the blind and visually impaired persons who are their members. Interpreter should also be available to their hearing-impaired members. Their building should be wheelchair accessible. The professional bodies like the Nigeria Society of Engineers should always put at the back of their mind that when they are designing a public and private building, wheelchair users should be accommodated.
Hence, The Better Standard Living Development initiative, BSLDI, a nonprofit and a nongovernmental organization, is using this medium to draw the attention of governments to prioritize the welfare of persons with disabilities as they mark another international day for persons with disabilities. That is why we are calling on the governments to enshrine laws that will take care of the welfare of persons with disabilities as well as legislation that will stop discrimination against them.
I conclude with the words of former US president W. Bush: “By working together to open doors of opportunities for citizens with disabilities, we can help fulfill the promise of our great nation (Nigeria).”
Ogowewo, the President, Better Standard Living Development Initiative, writes from Asaba