Groups of persons with disabilities (PWDs)living in Lagos State are demanding inclusion in government and call for more attention to provision of social welfare programmes.
They are equally demanding that Political Office seekers pay attention to the welfare and social needs of PWDs in the State especially during campaigns, provide interpreters, posters in braille, lend listening ears to the cries of various peoples.
These and more are part of the thought out demands of different groups of persons with various disabilities at a recent round-table to mark the 2018 International Day of Persons with Disabilities in the state.
The event which was coordinated by Journalists Against AIDS (JAAIDS) in collaboration with Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs and Network of Reproductive Health Journalists of Nigeria (NRHJN) was supported by AMPLIFY CHANGE in a Project titled: Voices for Change: Promoting increased uptake of Sexual and Reproductive Health, (SRH) services among People with Disabilities (PWDs) in Lagos State.
Some of the members of the various groups represented took turns to express their displeasure at the largescale neglect and exclusion being suffered by persons with disabilities in spite of the existence of the Lagos State Special People’s Law [LSSPL] of June 2011.
The provisions of the Law seek to uphold the rights of all persons living with any form of disability [PWDs] in Lagos State by safeguarding them against all forms of discrimination and giving them equal rights and opportunities
But, according to the Programs Manager of Nigeria Association of the Blind, (NAB) Ejiro Okotie, “persons with disabilities in Lagos State are yet to get as much as they deserve from government which has led other in provision of the Law.
She pointed out, “We sure deserve more than an agency to promote our aspirations; we deserve to be part of governance deciding what really affect us because only then can our rights be respected like others”
The theme of the occasion, “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality” also saw representatives of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Liaison Office, Dr. Omolaso Omolehin called on government to make concerted effort to improve on services for persons with disabilities in hospitals such as provision of braille messages, signs-Language interpreters as well as environment-friendly facilities that will promote access to healthcare.
Omosehin also noted that giving opportunities to persons with various disabilities to represent themselves at various levels of governance is also a way to promote inclusiveness “as the UN recognizes that inclusiveness equals equity and access by right”.
According to Okotie, “when we talk about inclusion and relating it with PWDs, what comes to mind is ‘they have come again’, but we need to understand that inclusion is everybody’s right. It is not a privilege or for a few individuals. It is a right that every individual should enjoy.”
She said the United Nations reports says that 15 percent of world Population are PWDs and in Nigeria, 29.7 million Persons are living with disabilities.
Okotie said, “If we are to bring Nigeria’s statistics down to Lagos State, we have 22 million people living in the State and an estimated 10 percent of that Population are PWDs, then it is not a figure to sweep under the carpet. These huge portion of Nigerians cannot be ignored because each person have something to bring to the table.
“It is important to create avenue even in the health sector for PWDs to be able to enjoy their rights and also to give back to the system.”
However, she said PWDs suffer from a lot of issues caused by society such as; infrastructural access as most health facilities are high rise buildings and often do not consider PWDs during construction.
She said information access is another challenge as elevators in Nigeria don’t have Brailles on the walls for the blind. Giving an instance, Ejiro said “like when I travelled abroad, i was in the elevator and I missed my way. I was able to find my way through the Braille written on the walls. In that situation, you don’t need the help of anyone because you can find your way to the right floor.”
She said these are big issues that sets PWDs aside as they often dread going to the hospital to access health care in order to avoid being a burden.
Also speaking at the event, the Director, Monitoring and Evaluation, Lagos State Office of Disability Affairs (LASODA), Mr Oguntoye Akintunde Oyewole said that the agency has written letters to all public institutions in Lagos State that every office must be accessible.
He said it is inhumane for a person with wheel chair not being able to access a building, stressing that it is the essence of inclusiveness as nobody should be left behind.
Though he commended the State government for having an all-inclusive policy which enjoins the construction of ramps in all public buildings, he admonished the non-compliance of some building owners especially banks, hotels and religious institutions which are yet to make their building easily accessible with such provisions.
Another PWD and member LASODA, Dr. Adebayo Adebukola observed that the period campaigns heralding the general elections should indeed be taken seriously by PWDs.
“it is election period and persons with disabilities must not be left out. It is no longer news that the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) has developed a disability framework and I was privileged to be part of it, so it’s time for us to speak out.
“Election is not about casting vote, all the processes must be accessible including PWDs. We may not have it all in 2019 but the process is ongoing and must be greatly improved upon”, said Adebayo.
Adebayo urged every person living with any form of disability to come out to challenge office seeking politicians on their plans for PWDs during campaigns.
“We need to let them know that PWDs have electoral values. If we are convinced that a particular person will grant our demand when he gets into office, then we can garner votes by convincing our electorates to vote for him”.