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The social integration people with disabilities need

By Lanre Olagunju and Duro Femi Ajala

The diversity of persons within a community is a prerequisite to any economy’s growth, making it essential for total inclusion within society. About 15% of the World Population lives with some form of disability, while one-fifth of the same figure experience significant disabilities.

With this in mind, one needs to have a working definition of disability, which has been defined as a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major activity.

As such these persons have a higher tendency to be excluded and discriminated against, both intentionally through the actions of people and unintentionally through the inadequacies of an environment. This inadvertently brings the feeling of being social outcasts, leading to emotional and psychological breakdown.

In addressing this need, the international community, namely the United Nations (UN) created the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), wherein Goal 10 – Reduced Inequalities – is specific on this need.

The Federal Government of Nigeria has also played a key role in advancing the social integration of PWDs by legislating the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability Act.

In ensuring integration of People With Disability (PWD) as an integral part of the society, first, a state must ensure adequate participation of these persons within the society. In striving to achieve this, one must first consider the problems surrounding PWD, what constant issues they face in their daily lives, their struggles and the actual underlying problems of the non-inclusiveness of an environment. 

In understanding their problems, one needs to understand that certain conveniences such as easy access to transport systems, quality education, socializing with friends and several others would seem to be more of an inconvenience to PWD. Solving these problems is crucial as it is only when these problems have been solved that PWD can take a step further in participating and becoming an integral part of the society.

Before moving on to environmental steps for total inclusion, it is important to note that exclusion of disabled persons does not only emanate from external sources but likewise these persons can deliberately exclude themselves from society, arising as a result of personal insecurities due to their disabilities, always wondering what others would think about them.

This is psychological, one which has to be deliberately catered for through therapy and constant counsel by professionals and loved ones. Having dealt with this, PWDs must begin to live in the new realities of their disabilities, they must accept it as who they are and move past the person they used to be, for those not born with their disability. 

Accepting one’s disability is a crucial step in being included within the society because nobody can make one feel inferior without that person’s consent, as such if they begin to accept who they are and their essence within any society, then they themselves begin to be inclusive. Lastly, PWDs have to consistently push themselves to be the better version of themselves, like every other able person. 

Humans are generally known to push for what they want or believe in, and PWD should not do anything less than this, as when they strive for their beliefs and passion then all persons within the society begin to recognize and respect these people because of their achievements notwithstanding their disability.

A good example is Nick Vujicic, born without arms and legs and yet inspires many; another person is Nigeria’s very own Cobhams Asuquo, a musician, producer and songwriter who plays piano with ease, despite his visually impaired disability.

Having taken a look at the internal and personal inclusion by PWD themselves, it would be incomplete without considering the external factors that would contribute to the total inclusion of these persons. For one, able persons need to be sensitized about the emotional and physical hardships of PWDs, reasons for inclusion, how to behave and respond to PWD.

Once this can be handled, our society would have taken immense steps for inclusion, as many organisations would begin to respond to the need of making their facilities more inclusive.

The Nigerian Disability Act recently signed into law, protecting those with disability is indeed a commendable law and very laudable, observing from its Section 1 which absolutely prohibits any form of discrimination against PWD, to other sections prescribing penalties and regulations.

The implementation of this law to the very letter is an essential step to inclusion in Nigeria, this law can be regarded as a solution but just like many laws within the state, it may become a dead law if the people, Civil Society Organisations (CSO) and government do not intentionally ensure its implementation.

The first step here is proper sensitization, then ensuring that building plans being submitted to the government are inclusive, transport systems are more accessible, preference to disabled persons for service provision, be it on a queue or reserved parking or seats be respected etc.

 Olagunju and Ajala are both disability right advocates. 

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