“Disability, if “unchecked”, does not only affect personal and family functioning, it undermines every civilized nation’s capacity to realize its human and capital potentials.”
— By Raji Ade Oba
Nothing gives me greater joy and more gratification than a discussion regarding disability and the health condition of our world. I have consistently crowed about the very strong convictions I hold about disability, including its related entities such as chronic illnesses and mental health problems, including clinical and psychological disorders that continue to eat away at our humanity. My fascination for health, including people with exceptionalities, is inspired by my own deep-rooted personal experience, as well as by the pride of being a special education teacher and helping professional.
If you have never been blind for a few seconds, you would never appreciate the unbelievable worth of vision, nor will you experience the best that the majestic universe- with all of its stupendous glory has to offer. If you have never been deaf to speech sounds for a few hours, you would never appreciate the significance of the auditory apparatuses that hang floppily on both sides of your head- which, beyond the sense of hearing and harmony that the pair provides, they give you an astonishing sense of equilibrium. If you have never momentarily experienced a physiological inability to make a coherent speech in a world where millions of its people have been increasingly feeling gagged and silenced, unable to assert themselves, it would be impossible for you to realize the significance of speech production- let alone the capacity to asset yourself fully functional speech organs
Yet, you may have been taking for granted your default capacities to hear, to see, to speak, to think and “live” independently. But without physiological setbacks in our abilities to walk, to make a quick dart of movements to the other room, to move aright, to stand akimbo, to strut forward, we might never fathom the unbelievably immense physiological, psychological, psychosocial challenges and institutional challenges that people with these exceptionalities experience day, in day out, as they navigate the terrains of this harsh world, where no one seems to care and where every man is always looking out for himself.
We marvel particularly at how children and adolescents with defective cognitive functioning can realize the enormous potentials that lie within each of them. Our country is home to hundreds of thousands of very young people with incapacities to learn and read at schools despite the absence of any physiological trauma or diseases to the brain, to form healthy relationships, to behave within the acceptable social parameters, no thanks to neurodevelopmental disorders, comprising autism spectrum disorder, intellectual and learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), among others. however, we also must worry about the increasingly volatile mental health of this population segment together with our young people.
Considered as social problems, rather than be seen as technical issues, in this essay, I explore the world of people with disabilities- their struggles and triumphs, their fears and concerns, and their challenges and potential areas of opportunities. I suggest ways that we might realize the total elimination of health problems and health disorders in our world- mainly from institutional perspective.
The world has a lot to worry about, in what has to do with not only the disabling institutional and attitudinal barriers that are faced by people with disabilities, but as well as the implications that potentially impact on our collective goal for human and economic advancement.
As the National Disability Bill continues to gather dust in our nation’s federal parliament, more and more persons with various disabilities continually face multitudes of attitudinal, environmental and institutional challenges that undermine their capacity for garnering resources and opportunities. At worst, these individuals with disabilities experience chronic isolation- in their inability to be given a chance at full economic and political participation. This indifferent culture questions our integrity and conscience as a nation with tremendous diversity and potential for stupendous growth. No nation succeeds long-term by failing to accommodate, via smart policies, and integrate over a quarter of its disabled citizens into a friendlier, less hostile community of nations.
Due to the uncertainty and volatility of time, our society in this present dispensation has become one that increasingly yearns for friendly operating environments where everyone, regardless of class, sex, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and disability can function optimally with relatively excellent mental ambience and physical security- the most solemn function of the state. More desirous of friendly ecological and psychological environments include individuals with a disability that accounts for over 2.3% of the population in Africa’s most populous country (2006 Population Census).
As we observe the meritorious observance of International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3rd December 2017, let us remember what it means for persons to have a disability, not only in terms of the physical pain and emotional anguish that’s associated with it, but also in the context of the social, economic and political climate of Nigeria. It has never been tougher!
Indeed, knowledge is power. With relevant information comes better judgment and saner decision-making. It is essential to look at changing our attitude toward this population segment. It is important to have a disability-friendly structural environment where persons with disabilities can function with less strife- minimal emotional and physical strain. A disability-friendly environment where children with an intellectual disability are equipped with mechanisms for self-sufficiency, an environment where a person on a wheelchair is accommodated for barrier-free movement, and individuals with a hearing impairment are provided with necessities for communication in the classrooms and other social institutions.
So how might we do that? if we are serious about improving the resources and opportunities of the disabled, a way to accomplish that is via professional policy advocacy.
No character is nobler than living for others that they might survive. No cause is more humbling than giving others the chance to discover themselves that they might live. But in fact, being a keeper of others is our only surest path to true, enduring success.
Yet, like I have liberally described a number of challenges confront the population of the disabled: the attitudes and indifference of people toward these persons, the denigrating stereotypes, stigmatization, and discrimination, as well as the nonchalance of the government toward a robust education of the disabled.
By and large, there are the structural and institutional problems facing this population segment. We have to act. But we have to act swiftly. And we have to move smartly.
If we are serious about spending some of our time focusing on the needs and interests of the community of the disabled persons in Nigeria, and around the world, having a sense of empathy is good, cultivating a culture and spirit of inclusiveness and kindness is even better. However, a more realistic, wide-scale mechanism by which we may effect real changes, improve the resources and opportunities of less-than-perfect people is via policy advocacy.
We want to be part of the mechanism through which society provides assistance to those most in need. But despite that there’ll be little – or no remuneration at all- including bureaucratic red tape, and a routinely uncooperative system, we want to genuinely provide services that are invaluable. That’s the practical constituent of policy advocacy. And I am convinced that we want to do it. We can.
The positive impacts of civil society around the world are obvious: civil organizations have been some of the greatest forces of good in the bettering and transformation of lives, in challenging the status quo. Coming together and collaborating as voices of reason is the most effective tool that we might employ to make a long-term impact in the life of all Nigerians with disabilities. It is also, I believe, the right strategy for addressing social problems such as diseases and disorders that have continued to undermine our humanity. Do we, as a shocking illustration not marvel at how a high-grade fever or malaria can take away the precious lives of hundreds of thousands of Africans every year! It is that so bad. Yet, the inability of millions of the disabled to not get an education as a consequence of their disability is even more consequential.
Non-governmental organizations and human services agencies, including the governments at all levels have significant roles to play in increasing the resources and opportunities of community of the disabled- by bringing about equal opportunity, full participation in the community, self-sufficient living, and economic independence for the deaf, the blind, the orthopedically handicapped, the intellectually and the learning disabled, the ones with different grades of autism, and so forth.
Policymakers, including the government and legislative decision makers, have unprecedented roles to play in the trajectory of the disabled with just a slight change in their priorities. But we must get them to play them. With an extraordinary, concerted collaboration of various bodies, including the private sector, civil organizations, human services agencies and influential stakeholders and individuals, we can incorporate a combination of analytical, three-dimensional skillsets to
formulate a comprehensive policy proposal for the active consideration of policymakers. No entity has the more substantial material and coercive capital more than the state, but we have to make sure that we are using the right tools for the job. We have to be smart about it.
Policy advocacy is a lot! From the policy deliberation phase to agenda-building stage, to the formulation phase and the forwarding stage (all of which are riddled with very great obstacles and ethical implications), to the enactment and implementation phase, the task of policy advocacy becomes all too a monumental task that many of us- potential agents of social change may want to shirk away from undertaking.
Challenges of policy advocacy are particularly direr in this region as our longstanding apathy to tackle preventable health problems alone results in a pileup of problem after problem, disability after disability, health disorder after health disorder, leading to a cascade of social, economic and cultural decline that we all suffer.
However, it is the right thing to do- to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper, to getting each other’s’ back and fighting tirelessly on behalf of others. Nothing- no act can be greater and more fulfilling than living for others that they might survive.
Still, I continue to be adamant that the future of our world in terms of the social, economic, cultural and institutional life of the disabled is going to be determined largely by our capacity to band together, to form an interlocking clusters of efforts and creativities of people and organizations to get legislative decision makers to develop commonsense policy proposals that look at making people’s lives more dignified.
With a reawakened sense of empathy on our part, also important is doing away with derogatory notions and misconceptions that are often unknowingly designed to condemn, marginalize, victimize and denigrate persons with special needs. Rather, we should do what we can, in our own small ways- through a change in culture and attitude, through community or institutional advocacy, in promoting the exceptional interests of this exceptional population of the disabled that ultimately a lot of us may soon join.
But I certainly see a very significant association between the “wholesomeness” of peoples- without regard to disability or status and nations’ productivity in a great number of contexts.