At a political rally in January 2015, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode made a solemn vow to stand by the physically challenged if elected as governor. Today, true to his promise, Ambode has sent out a positive signal that his all-inclusive government has a special place for the physically- challenged. The state government is fast adjusting to the needs of people with disability and making them feel a sense of being lagosians.
The governor is on record to have urged corporate organizations to collaborate with the state government in its efforts to make life more comfortable for People Living with Disabilities by fulfilling their own part of the obligation. Delivering a goodwill message recently at the opening of a- three day International Conference on Disabilities with the theme: “Creating an Inclusive Society for All” at the Civic Centre, Lagos, Ambode said that people living with disabilities should be recognized as part and parcel of the society. He added that such persons should be provided with the enabling environment to realize their full potential in all spheres of human endeavour.
It is, perhaps, in keeping to his promise of standing by the physically-challenged, that the Ambode government has initiated Special People’s fund. The establishment of the people with disabilities fund was to create the right environment for them to live life more meaningfully. This is really an initiative capable of closing the structural nature of the wealth gap between those who are able bodied and people living with disabilities.
Another show of care on the part of Governor Ambode is the order given to Bus Rapid Transit and LAGBUS operators on free ride for physically-challenged. In our clime, where it is difficult for the physically-challenged to get on and off a bus, the governor has directed that all physically-challenged should be picked and rides free, on all Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and LAGBUS buses. Hitherto, they wait endlessly on the benevolence of good hearted compatriots to get into the bus. The newly introduced BRT busses have facility for the physically challenged.
Equally, the Ambode administration has strengthened the Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs (LASODA) which was created “to safeguard people living with disability against all forms of discrimination. Through the Office, the governor recently awarded scholarships to 60 students of the School of the Blind, Oshodi.
The Ambode’s example has, indeed, given hope to the physically challenged in the society. What people the physical challenged need is enabled environment and not discrimination. It is disheartening that in Nigeria, discrimination against physically challenged persons has been prevalent. Here, the reality of being physically-challenged affects not only the physicality of a person but also how others judge them culturally, spiritually, financially and emotionally.
It is registered in the mind of an average Nigerian that once a person has one deformity or the other, such a person has nothing to offer the society again. This is notwithstanding the rare feats performed by some physically challenged persons over the years in various areas of human endeavour including sports, the academia, art, music, business and even philanthropy.
As it is, most persons with physical challenges remain materially and socially poor without access to transport, which is needed for business, visitation to friends and relatives, going to school and vocational training centers, markets and finding and keeping jobs, where they are found. Most offices, shopping malls, banks and other public buildings are erected with little or no consideration for mobility impaired members of the society. Automated Teller Machines, ATMs, in banks are built in such a way that those on the wheelchair cannot have access to them.
On the same page with the governor, his wife, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode has urged children without limbs and other physically challenged persons not to allow their situation to deter them for aiming high in life. She gave the charge at the presentation of cheques of N1.5million each, to five pupils of different nursery, primary and secondary schools, as part of the Stanbic IBTC’s “Out for a Limb” corporate social project, to fix the limbs of some children amputees and those with congenital limb defects. This coming from the first lady is a moral boost that when complemented by others in their social and political strata would yield a significant change in life and perception of people with physical challenge.
The point here is that we ought to learn from what a nation like America has achieved with its Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA. Thanks to the Act in USA, transportation, public facilities and many services in the United States are more accessible to all. Thanks to ADA, for example, many city buses and trains have lifts or ramps for wheelchairs, priority seating signs, handrails, slip-resistant flooring, and information stamped in Braille. Emergency call centers are equipped with telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDDs), and federally funded public service announcements have closed captioning. Most importantly, ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in job recruitment, hiring, promotions, training or pay. ADA’s provisions have enabled many people to live independently, despite any physical or mental disability, and have helped protect their rights.
At least, the law and the Office created to implement it as well as special people fund established by the Lagos state government are stepping stones to achieving what exists in decent nations. Overall, emphasis should be on fuller “inclusion” within the community. It is imperative that we put in place a National Disability Rights Commission with innovative deal and commitment to enable and not disable people with deformity to attain their God-given potentials. With that in place, physically challenged people will walk through life with hope.