About five years after the enactment of the discrimination against disability law challenges around implementation and domestication by sub-nationals continue to hamper the gains of the legislation
Oftentimes, a person with disability is described as someone with a physical or mental impairment. However, disabilities can vary widely and can be either visible, invisible, natural or acquired.
Therefore, it is crucial to remember that when we discuss disabilities, we could be referring to a variety of conditions, such as mental health issues, chronic illnesses, intellectual disabilities, and problems with hearing and vision, among others.
This is one of the various challenges that people face around the world as they tend to experience depression, social marginalization, and isolation.
In most cases of physical or visible disabilities, there is an absence of housing options, a high number of inaccessible workplaces and service locations.
Some other barriers to full social and economic inclusion for Persons Living With Disabilities (PWDs) include inaccessible transportation, unavailability of assistive devices and technologies, non-adaptive means of communication, gaps in service delivery, discriminatory prejudice and societal stigma.
Without doubt, every responsible government should guarantee that all citizens, including PWDs, have the opportunity to vote, as it is a fundamental right in every democratic society that helps shape the future of the country.
On the political front, there are many obstacles that impede this right in Nigeria particularly for an estimated 30 million disabled people, out of the over 200 million population of Nigeria, according to the National President of the Joint National Association of Persons With Disabilities, Dr Abdullahi Usman. This figure accounts for about 13 – 15% of the Nigeria’s population.
During the 2023 general elections, OrderPaper interacted with PWDs at some polling units in Abuja where most of them expressed dissatisfaction over the poor attention given to them by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at the polling unit, despite the provisions of inclusion in the 2022 Electoral Act.
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Also, commuting has become a herculean task for these people and these unpleasant experiences demonstrate that persons with disabilities face significant disadvantages and are frequently excluded from government-made plans and decisions pertaining to social amenities.
Many have taken to remaining indoors and step outside only in dire circumstances. The World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank report that this situation has numerous detrimental effects on PWDs, including psychological, emotional, social, and economic challenges.
Long road to the disability law…
The Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018, which had lingered in the National Assembly for 18 years, since 1999, was eventually jointly passed by both Senate and House of Representatives on March 28, 2018 and in December, it was transmitted to the President for assent for the 4th time. The bill was finally signed into law by former President Muhammadu Buhari on the 23rd of January in 2019.
The 58-sections disability law prohibits any form of discrimination against PWDs, including making public places or buildings like banks and other commercial buildings, schools, courts, religious centres, airports, bus stops, parks, etc, inaccessible to this category of people with penalties for violation.
Specifically, Section 3 – 5 of the Act says:
“(3) A Person with disability has the right to access the physical environment and buildings on an ! equal basis with others.
(4) A public building shall be constructed with the necessary accessibility aids such as lifts (where necessary), ramps and any other facility that shall make them accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.
(5) Road side-walks, pedestrian crossings and all other special facilities as set out in the First Schedule made for public use shall be made accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities including those on wheelchairs and the visually impaired.”
It has been observed that despite the domestication of the Act in some states, PWDs are still facing a lot of challenges which include poor access to public spaces and transport services, inequality, lack of free healthcare, unemployment, and most importantly discrimination and stigmatisation.
The majority of states in Nigeria, if not all, are guilty of constructing wheelchair-unfriendly pedestrian bridges making it difficult for PWDs who end up avoiding these pedestrian bridges.
While some pedestrian bridges can be accessed by wheelchair users, some PWDs that depend on crutches for mobility still face difficulties in accessing them as they are too dangerous for them.
Also making use of public means of transportation remains inaccessible to them due to social stigmatisation and victimisation thereby forcing many PWDs to take private vehicles or use cab-hailing services which is at a high financial implication.
One of the reasons the Act has not fully achieved its purpose in Nigeria is because of the fact that out of the 36 states in Nigeria, only 13 have domesticated the disability law. These states include Plateau, Lagos, Ondo, Kano, Ekiti, Anambra, Kogi, Niger, Kaduna, Bauchi, Jigawa, Kwara and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Some of these states that have domesticated the law claim to have created agencies to pilot the affairs for PWDs. In spite of this, the overall living conditions of PWDs have not improved much because wheelchair-bound and crutches-using individuals cannot easily use physical structures or public transportation systems.
Domesticated but not implemented?
Speaking on the challenges of implementation of the disability law, Mr. Monday, a physically challenged man who moves with the aid of a wheelchair, observed that in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), there are still so many difficulties faced by the PWDs.
“Although the Act was created for persons living with disability in Nigeria, but when we want to enter a vehicle, we still have challenges and face discrimination from members of the public. If you want to go to a five-story building, in some buildings there is no lift there at all. Even before you get to some offices, there are staircases and there is no ramp. The authority should have provided that means for a person on wheelchair or a person that is using a crutches or walking cane use by blind people.
Once you create a law, there should be a way for the people that are supposed to benefit, to actually benefit, but in this case, we don’t see any proper implementation of that Act,” he said.