Disability is a complex and multidimensional phenomenon in all societies. In a typical Nigerian community, persons living with disability are excluded from social, political and economic activities. They are expected to be dependent on others. Terms closely associated with disability include stigmatization, marginalization and stereotyping; all connoting negativity, rejection and inadequacy. Disability, according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons was defined as from ‘the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others’. In Nigeria, Persons living with disabilities constitute only about 3 per cent of the work force. World Health Organization reported that over 20 million Nigerians are living with disability which makes them the largest minority group in the nation. The above statistics show that 20 million Nigerians, that is, about 11 per cent of Nigerian population are living with one form of disability or the other. A civilized society would take disability seriously, advocating for structural and attitudinal reforms at least in respect of the rights of people living with disability.
People living with disability face denial of fair access to resources, services and opportunities for personal development. They face environmental barriers including those in the built environment, such as inaccessible public buildings and those on communication including lack of information in accessible formats. A combination of these barriers within communities and institutions can exclude persons living with disabilities from participating in social, civil and political processes. Hence disabled persons suffer from low self-esteem, confidence and aspirations. Their capacities to have either financial independence or fulfilling lives are often cut short. However, there are exceptions where they are given the opportunities to find new meaning to life.
Finding solutions to the problem of disability is depends on the realities in various communities. SEVICS pursues a three-point strategy towards quelling the impact of disability in developing countries. Our strategies include:
The West African society is often close-knit and characterized by brotherly love. Support for one’s neighbor is not a luxury but a requirement expected of all persons in the community. A stronger community is guaranteed if all members of all communities are supportive. What this implies is not a mere feeling of compassion or pity but a consciousness to care. To give support is to campaign for equity whereby every person irrespective of their conditions are given provisions that bring them to level playing grounds with their peers. This must go beyond alms giving to setting up standards in communities and workplaces too that allow the disabled to access paid employment at par with their professional competency.
People living with disability are often unable to speak out before the right audience. This is often due to the lack of access to people in authority and policymakers whose decisions are able to influence them positively. The perception of disability in today’s society needs to change as the person of capabilities of people are completely disregarded irrespective of other competencies they might own. All who can must, as a matter of duty represent the interests on the disabled persons.
Leaders exist in every society. The proverb says that the one eyed is king in the land of the blind. Depending on how you see it, the proverb says two different things: that a person with a disability can be a leader or that more capable hands must always be in leadership positions. Invariable, we can draw an important lesson on leadership since the qualities that makes one a good leader is not exclusively reserved for a certain group and not the other. Owing that we all have individual competencies that make us good leaders in one facet of life and not the other. With this knowledge, we can create opportunities for all people to take up leadership roles in certain activities and tasks. This will engage all persons actively and give them a sense of belonging.
Is disability so big a problem it cannot be solved? It isn’t! A little effort from everyone can begin a paradigm shift. Stronger leaderships, adequate representation of disabled people and minimal support will contribute immensely towards creating a new world.