Nigeria: Creating a sustainable disability inclusion plan in post-COVID world

Long, long ago, children and individuals who had a disability were considered plagues—individuals with epidemic and highly contagious diseases who needed only to be quarantined and made separate from the mainstream society.

Creating a more inclusive and more accessible society for a sustainable disability community in a post-COVID-19 world

No one— not the government or civil societies wanted to have anything to do with individuals with abnormalities.

Rather than allow deaf or blind children, for example, to enroll at educational institutions, including social and religious societies for intellectual and social-cultural development, this population segment was held down in a secluded, impoverished state, chained and looked upon as people like those of time bombs waiting to go off any moment.

These barbaric, ignorant practices had continued for many decades from the start of the 18th century until the middle of the 19th century when religious organizations and missionaries began to take responsibility for people with disabilities.

Today, no doubt—thanks to the unprecedented efforts of various civil organizations, disability advocates, researchers, and educationists, the dynamics have greatly changed, and more and more persons with disabilities across in Nigeria and around the World are now being armed with the tools and machinery to compete with fairness, to determine their own destiny under a more transparent, more inclusive governments and societies around the world.

Yet, COVID-19 did further aggravate the challenges of this disadvantaged population. For the most vulnerable members of society with massive personal and institutional difficulties, and trouble engaging with the larger, non-disabled society, the difficulties of People with Disabilities (PWDs) were compounded by a raging pandemic and a New Normal!

Several people with disabilities, including the Deaf, the blind, and individuals with physical disabilities who use wheelchairs experienced a disproportionate amount of physical and psychological trauma. Deaf people.in particular faced limited "jail time", arrests and battery, as well as job losses and hunger! According to findings in a recent peer-reviewed article.

By the estimates to the International Disability Alliance, there are estimated to be 31 million people living with disabilities in Nigeria which is just 15 percent of the entire population. In the heels of the Pandemic—from the middle of 200 to early 2021, there were no specialist hospitals or facilities to meet the needs of this population. Many university teaching hospitals which might otherwise provide services had been forced to close units because of the pandemic. Blind people who used to rely on passers-by to help them navigate the roads, then because of the pandemic and social distancing rules, had no one to come close to them and they had to cross alone. Deaf people with communication challenges who largely depend on sign language and lip-reading were mostly separated from other masked-up people they depend on for communication and associated matters. Caregivers of people with intellectual disabilities and wheel-bound individuals were left utterly alone because of government directives and protocols for checking the spread of the coronavirus. Those were just some of the impacts of COVID on people with disabilities.

However, the gap still widens—between the haves and have-nots, between the prospects of people with disabilities and the non-disabled. Unemployment, inaccessibility to public infrastructures and institutions, poor access to quality education and social and medical information, and difficulty with maintaining quality, enduring social relationships are the major handicaps to the upward mobility of these "exceptional" individuals.

In a post-Covid world, challenges for people with disabilities linger. Yours truly have watched and listened to the hearts and minds of people with disabilities who aren’t just gunning for a life of dignity, but also a life of independent living and a life where members of society see and approach people with disabilities for who they are, as opposed to what they have become of them physiologically.

Society has a responsibility to include everyone, to institute an enabling, inclusive environment where everyone, regardless of their status or station can compete fairly in a global economy. Aside from the many disability-friendly policies and programs that have been put into place by Buahri administration, including the Disability Act and the Commission, it is believed that society, including the Nigerian government, civil organizations, and fortunate individuals have unprecedented roles to play in instituting a more equal, more inclusive operating environment for all people with disabilities in Nigeria who aspire for a life of dignity regardless of their status or station.

Apart from massive sensitizations to the public about the frameworks and dynamics of disabilities, particular emphasis is placed on the following key areas that improve the overall resources and opportunities of people with disabilities.

Healthcare: There's a considerable connection between the living conditions- an individual's inhabiting environment and their health. Low-cost structures and motel-like buildings can be constructed by organizations for adequately-qualified and deserving persons with disabilities in specific locations- each in major geopolitical zones in Nigeria. Administrator-one for each one is charged with the management of facilities. However, this is a long-term project that requires intensive capital.

No person should have to suffer a preventable health problem or be allowed to die of a common illness because they are deaf or blind, or unable to use their limbs. But, deaf patients and adolescents, in recent, times, have been dying of common, preventable illnesses due to the inability to bridge the communication barrier between deaf people and the hearing world. Medical personnel needs to consider the consequences of the difficulties in communication by deaf patients. Deaf people's communication barrier has caused them to be unassertive and bashful. These are consequential, preventing physicians to listen and understand patients' accounts. Sign language interpreters should be hired.

With slight changes in our priorities, voice can be given to the voiceless, sight to the blindfolded, and a pathway to a better life for all. The medical community, in its part, must determine to institute initiatives that provide medical access for people with disabilities, including disability-friendly medical machinery and facilities. Medical information across general hospitals and private practices should be written in braille for accessibility. The medical society can, via massive, aggressive, and wide-scale sensitization schemes across states in Nigeria, provide specifically target and designed information to individuals with disabilities, including parents and guardians, and caregivers of people with disabilities about a host of subjects that affect their health and security.

Education and employment. Over 85% of people with disabilities have no access to quality education. Recent scholastic studies revealed that there are poor academic performances recorded by students with special needs compared to their non-disabled counterparts. Poor education has a significant link to quality of life. No thanks to the accompanied psychosocial challenges of living with a disability, including depression and emotional imbalances, study habits, poor locus of control and poor self-esteem, as well as school factors are some of the factors that beset individuals and students with disabilities.

In a country where over half of its population are living in extreme poverty caused in large part as a consequence of the government's inability to arm individuals with 21st-century skills and harness the potentials of its citizens, foundations and individuals may be tempted to invest aggressively in vocational and empowerment exercises across selected states. When individuals are armed with information, as well as with skills needed for today's tasks, individuals can experience economic and personal independence. It is proposed that these skills be imparted: wig making, hair styling, tailoring, baking, shoemaking, photography, graphics designing, and related skills.

Yet, it is difficult to measure the number of efforts that civil organizations and individuals can put together to improve the resources and opportunities of people with disabilities for the sole sake of empowering progression, as well as ensuring disability inclusion in Africa's most populous nation.

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