3 years after the Disability Act became law, accessibility is still less than ideal

In a commendable win for people with hearing impairment, Nigeria’s federal government, in February, ordered the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to deploy sign language interpreters to its broadcasts -but is it one step too little?

Nigeria ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of people with Disabilities (CRPD) as far back as 2007 and its Optional Protocol 3 years later in 2010. It was not until December 2018, however, that the Nigerian government, under President Muhammadu Buhari, signed into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) bill.

The DAPD law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and imposes sanctions including fines and prison sentences on those who contravene it. The icing on the cake is its stipulation of a five-year transitional period for modifying public buildings, structures, and automobiles to make them accessible to people with disabilities.

This is very vital for so many reasons, yet often overlooked by many abled people.

Ms Ijeoma Ogwuegbu, who has been vocal about what it is like to live with a disability in Nigeria tweeted Friday, March 26, 2021, about an easily avoidable ordeal while trying to access service in a GT Bank branch.

Despite the fact that the bank made no provisions for access for disabled customers, the teller attending to her dismissed her unmistakable difficulty navigating a building designed without regard for her needs as a person with mobility impairment. It is a testament to the fact that laws alone are not enough to mitigate the daily trials of persons living with disabilities in Nigeria, we need a social conscience shift.

Disability access in Nigeria has a long way to go because even where provisions are made for access, it is done like a tired afterthought making the end-result just as inaccessible.

The comments section under Ms Ijeoma’s tweet and a similar tweet by @Mochievous is filled with people recounting their experience with the inaccessibility of public spaces to people living with a disability.

With Nigeria being home to about 25 million disabled people – a whopping 15% of the country’s population, the near absence of accessibility in public spaces is not a matter of supply not meeting a need. It can come off as plain cruelty even when one is being charitable in their assessment.

This is not surprising to disabled Nigerians, because a very common experience among Nigerians living with disability is the casual cruelty of peers and dismissive attitudes of adults to their pain.

Comedy skits digging for laughs at the expense of the disabled are a common staple of the Nigerian entertainment industry.

While we collectively work to improve social attitudes towards the plight of Nigerians living with disability, it is very important that we keep applying pressure on institutions, private and public alike, to deliver on the promise of the Disability Act by transitioning spaces to make accessibility easy for all.

The clock is ticking on the 5-year period provision.

It is also vital to keep a keen eye out so these institutions don’t half-heartedly deliver ramps that are useless to the disabled as is common at present.

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