“It wasn’t that easy, but it was because I was determined to be in school. Normally we all know how stressful Nigerian schools can be with the 8 am to 6 pm classes. Sometimes I won’t eat before going to school and get exhausted before getting home. I was limited by the structures, buildings, and infrastructures of the school.”
The above are the words of Tosin Praise, a recent graduate of Mass Communication at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, who has been suffering from Muscular Dystrophy (dysfunction) for 7 years, narrating his struggles while on campus.
Distal muscular dystrophy (DD) is a group of rare diseases that affect the muscles (genetic myopathies). DD causes weakness that starts in the lower arms and legs (the distal muscles). It may then gradually spread to affect other parts of the body.
There are many forms of muscular dystrophy (MD). While some are noticeable at birth (congenital muscular dystrophy), other forms develop in adolescence. Regardless of the exact timing of onset, MD can lead to difficulty in walking, even paralysis.
According to Tosin, most of the buildings in the school do not allow movement with wheelchairs. Many times, he had to be carried by his peers into the classroom to attend lectures, leaving his wheelchair outside. He also faces the same issue transporting himself to school.
“Transporting myself from my apartment to school premises is another thing. Not that I have a personal car, it’s public transport I do use. It sometimes affects my classes. Kudos to my friend who happens to be my roommate and also my coursemate. That made it easier,” he said
29 million people with disability in Nigeria
According to the World Health Organization, in 2018, about 29 million of the 195 million people who comprise Nigeria’s national population were living with a disability. GR news however observed that there are no sufficient data on students with some form of impairments.
School structures, a threat to my academics
In 2021, Aruleba Oluwadamilare, a 200-level student of computer science education (Sandwich program) at Ekiti State University, had a life-threatening accident that cost him four surgeries and other medical expenses to the tune of ₦3 million.
Now moving with the aid of a walker, Aruleba said he will not be resuming classes when school reopens, as the buildings in school do not have ramps for wheelchair users and other people with mobility issues.
“I think I should stop schooling for now. Had it been that I’m fully recovered or almost, I would have loved to go back to school but for now, going to school and going through a lot of stress and challenges is not going to be easy for me.
“If there’s a very smooth route to each class or hall, it will be very easy for me but there’s not a smooth passage to each class and it will be hard passing through those places to class and it will add more to my problem and that’s what I’m preventing. You know I had a fracture on both my legs and am only using a walker and I can only use that on a very smooth surface, so now if I wanna use that going to school, there’s every possibility that I will fall and I don’t want that,” he said.
Law protecting Persons Living With Disabilities (PWDs)
In 2015, Nigeria introduced the National Policy on Special Needs Education, its first document fully dedicated to the interests of people with special needs.
In 2016, it also introduced the National Policy on Inclusive Education, which aimed to provide education to everyone. Promising to “offer a quality education for all while respecting diversity”. The policy defined itself as “about removing barriers to learning and involving all learners who otherwise would have been excluded through marginalization and segregation.”
On January 23, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018, following nine years of relentless advocacy by disability rights groups and activists. The law brought major relief to campaigners, who had accused the government of not doing enough to protect citizens with disabilities.
The law prohibits all forms of discrimination against persons with disability. Defaulters are liable to a fine of N100,000 or six months imprisonment. It also imposes a fine of one million naira on corporate bodies, found discriminating against such persons. Public organizations are to reserve at least five percent of employment opportunities for these persons.
Public transportation facilities – including seaports, airports, and railways – and service providers are also required to make provisions for the physically, visually, and hearing impaired and all persons however challenged, according to the disability law.
It also covers the rights and privileges of persons with disability including education, health care, priority in accommodation, and emergencies, as well as empowers citizens with disabilities with the legal rights to seek damages in the event of any defaults.
The law also provides for a five-year transitional period within which public buildings, structures, or automobiles are to be modified to be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities. The construction plan of a public building shall not be approved if the plan does not make provision for accessibility facilities for persons with disabilities.
Tertiary institutions creating barriers for PWDs
Humphrey Ukeaja, a Senior Research Officer at the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) drew attention to the travails of PWDs occasioned by societal, institutional, and attitudinal barriers in tertiary institutions.
Ukeaja noted that PWDs in Tertiary Institutions find it difficult to learn in tertiary institutions due to the absence of assistive devices.
“It is like the higher institutions are not taking into cognizance that PWDs exist in Nigeria. There are no assistive devices provided largely in all higher institutions for PWDs. Acquiring knowledge is the right of everybody and disability will happen to everybody as long as you age, it’s a natural effect. So if we learn to treat, handle, and understand issues of disability, we can use such knowledge in our family when anyone has issues of disability,” he said.
What can be done?
Ukeaja called for increased awareness in tertiary institutions and the provision of assistive devices to create an equitable and inclusive society where PWDs can study. He stressed the need for tertiary institutions and government agencies to implement the provisions of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act.
“There is a Disability Law and what we need to do now is to build capacity. Section 2 of the act states that the ministry of information and culture is supposed to make enlightenment about this law to the general public,” he said.
Ukeaja also emphasized the critical need to provide assistive devices in tertiary institutions to aid PWDs.
“To create an enabling environment for PWDs in tertiary institutions, you need to first create access. There is a need for a ramp for those using wheelchairs, there is a need for a handrail for those using crutches, there is need for sign language interpreters for those that are deaf, there is need for bold signage, and a bold directional guide.
“There is a need for a braille format type of books and infrastructures for the blind and those partially blind and the albino need magnifying glasses, shades, and sun guide cream. There is a need for priority to all clusters of disability. There is a need to factor all these in.”
He charged Vice-chancellors and the Ministry of Education to consider disability issues in the curriculum to help solve discrimination on campuses.
“Majority of the tertiary institutions in Nigeria lack these access and assistive devices. If the vice-chancellors and the ministry of education can factor this in, there is a need to have disability issues pushed into the curriculum. They need to factor in issues of access and also attitudinal issues, discrimination should be addressed. They should know that there is a law,” he said.