I would like to commend the Lagos State government for the forward thinking and bold steps it is taking to cater for the needs of PWDs. I hope that as a trendsetter other states and indeed the Federal Government can follow in its footsteps and do more for PWDs. I have a few observations though that I would like to highlight.
• First I note that the venue of the meeting and refreshments were inaccessible, inadequate and non-inclusive, both to persons with visual impairment and to persons with mobility difficulty. It leads me to think that PWD were not involved in the planning and thinking through of the venue and implementation of the event. Furthermore, meeting materials were not made available in alternative formats for persons with visual impairment and I noticed that this affected their adequate participation in the meeting.
I observed a man on a wheelchair being carried up and down the stairs – which in my opinion was rather humiliating I must say. Later on, I also observed that he could not join the rest of us for lunch because the hall was not wheelchair accessible. It was no surprise that he did not show up for the 2nd day of the meeting.
• At such a ground breaking meeting to discuss issues relating to PWD, it was sad to hear so called experts using long abandoned terms to describe disability. For example: deaf, dumb, kept being repeated with reckless abandon. While these terms may still be generally acceptable and non-offensive to some persons, in a modern inclusive world, political correctness prescribe terms like ‘hard of hearing’, ‘visually impaired’ and ‘speech impairment’ instead deaf, blind and dumb. They carry a negative and humiliating connotation and highlight the condition rather than the person. I would expect better education and choice of speakers next time.
• I would like to point a generalization made by one of the speakers, Mr Theocracy Edafe. He said that mothers are to blame for babies born with disabilities. I find this statement in this forum troubling, because it sounds sexist and suggests a serious gap in knowledge about disability issues to say the least.
Genetics is a cause of disability in children and the genetic make-up of a child is the sum total contributed by both the man and woman. Apart from genetics being a cause of disability in children, research tells us that unhappy mothers most likely have babies who suffer from depression and many learning impairments. In many cases, unhappy mothers are more often than not victims of domestic violence, sexual, psychological, mental and emotional abuse and torture from their spouse or partners. Any resulting disability in the child born should be a shared responsibility of an abusive father and a mother who stays on in the abusive relationship. This is a first step towards a more unified voice from the PWD community. The meeting highlighted obvious dissensions amongst the PWD community, often making the atmosphere tense. By and large many groups were advocating for their own interest. The more meetings like this are held, the more aligned together the PWD community will become and the more we can influence provenance of PWD related policy and legislation. If the government must take us seriously, we must speak as one voice with one goal as Mr Emmanuel Owoyemi said while presenting his paper. Much more will be accomplished that way.
• Is there a plan to include senior citizens, persons with prolonged illness and pregnant women as persons with disabilities? In most countries where the UN International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities have been ratified, these groups of persons are entitled to the benefits and protection afforded PWDs.
• Dr Peter Ogunmusi who represented the Nigerian Medical Association and Mrs Adenike Glenn who represented the Ministry of Health sounded very political when addressing the issues raised at the plenary session. No hard promises were made and when promises were made, there was no timeline for the realization of these promises. This makes me wonder if this is not another one of those events designed to pacify the agitations of PWDs. I suggest that there be a follow up on the litigation of erring doctors as promised by Dr Peter because many persons have become disabled and have lost their lives as a result of the professionally reckless way that some doctors have managed patients’ care.