Canvassing for Ease of Movement for the Physically Challenged

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Sunday Ehigiator writes that buildings, especially public structures, should as a matter of necessity factor in ramps and wheelchair-friendly mantrap doors, to create ease of movement for the over 20 million people with disabilities in Nigeria

For pharmacist and writer, Marie Ochiedo, life as a physically challenged person is hard enough without the added difficulty in trying to access places, especially public structures with her wheelchair. Like Ochiedo, there are over 20million physically challenged Nigerians who on a daily basis are hampered by so many limitations including the non-friendly public spaces.

Although most people are quick to blame engineers and architects for failing to incorporate the physically challenged in their designs, others posit that lack of willpower by government is to blame.

For Ochiedo, right from her time in school, she has had to build her own ramps in order for her to access lecture halls, an anomaly that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

Public Outcry

Recently, a visit to one of the new generation banks (name withheld) in Abuja provoked an outcry from Ochiedo as the non-availability of ramps prevented her from accessing the banking hall.

In her tweet, Ocheido‏ appealed to financial institutions that have so far unknowingly isolated her and millions of others, from performing financial transactions in the banking halls, due to lack of ramps, and wheelchair-friendly mantrap doors, to do the needful.

She tweeted, “Dear bank (sic), I use a wheelchair and needed to make use of your MoneyGram services sometime last week and upon visiting one of your facilities; the closest to my work place in Kubwa, Abuja, I realised that there were no ramps to enable me enter the building.

“Even your doors are too small to fit a wheelchair. I asked your security personnel if there were other entrances into the bank that I could use instead and they replied that there were none. So I was left with the option of waiting under the sun while they went in to make inquiries on my behalf.

“Upon his return, the security man said I would have to go into the bank to be attended to. And seeing as there was simply no way for me to do that, except maybe to be lifted up in his arms, I had to leave.

“There are over 20 million people with disabilities in Nigeria. A good number of who make use of wheelchairs. So you can imagine the large demographic of people to whom you’ve shut out of accessing your banking services. You would agree with me that this is not right.

“I’m speaking out on behalf of people like me and kindly request that you build disability ramps in all your facilities and make your mantrap doors wheelchair-friendly. Thanks in anticipation of your speedy response.”

Not done, she also tweeted at another bank about her concerns over the way their facilities exclude her from their services, especially given the fact that they are her favourite bank.

She said the particular bank is her favourite because she can go an

entire year with zero complaints and as such don’t have any reason to visit their banking halls.

“Recently, however, I needed to access my NGO’s account and pick up a new debit card and I had to visit your branch in Kubwa which is the closest to me. It gave me great pleasure to see that there were disability ramps in place for people like me but on going up, I quickly realised that my wheelchair would not be able to pass through your mantrap doors.

“Some of your other branches, along with the narrow doors, do not even have ramps in place for people with special needs.“

While the first tweet prompted the first bank mentioned promise to factor in inclusive accessibility for all in their financial institution, nothing was heard from the latter bank she mentioned.

RampUp Nigeria

Putting her money where her mouth is,

Ocheido has through project RampUpNigeria started building disability ramps across public secondary schools in Nigeria. She also kept a promise made to one Saidu Ali, a secondary school student in Abuja, by providing him a scooter in place of his hithero rickety wheelchair.

On this she said: “We kept our promise to empower Saidu Ali with a better mobility aid as his old, rickety wheelchair was impairing his school attendance and performance. We were also honoured by the principal of Government Secondary School, Nyanya and the Universal Basic Education board of the FCT.

“Also (sic), my team and I just finished ramping up Government Secondary School, Nyanya. Now students like Saidu no longer have to suffer the indignity of crawling to their classrooms. The goal is to improve mobility and accessibility for physically challenged students in public secondary schools.

#RampUpNigeria.”

On the hashtag RampUpNigeria, she said: “

#RampUpNigeria because every Nigerian deserves to live an independent, full and productive life irrespective of disability. RampUpNigeria is not just about calling out public institutions that have failed to make their facilities accessible for persons with disabilities. This campaign is also about giving kudos to those who have shown great foresight by making their buildings disability-friendly.

“#RampUpNigeria because disability rights are human rights!! Accessibility is more than just ramps. It’s also about elevators, accessible doors, accessible public means of transport, disability parking and walkways #RampUpNigeria.

“#RampUpNigeria because over 20 million Nigerians live with a disability, most of whom are mobility challenged. #RampUpNigeria because using a wheelchair should not spell the end of anybody’s life

#RampUpNigeria because we are all potentially disabled people. Remember, natural mobility challenges come with aeging.”

Necessity

For the uninitiated, wheelchair ramps; also known as inclined plane, enables physically challenged, as well as the elderly, to enjoy complete freedom, as they allow users to move in and around safely and freely without being hampered by staircases.

It is a sloppy surface connecting two areas of different levels used instead of staircases in buildings, for use by people who move about in wheelchairs, scooters or to be carried on stretchers.

It is also a cost-effective and practical solution to enhance mobility. Thus, by installing a ramp, scooters or wheelchair users can access steps, doorways, sliding glass doors, showers or even raised landings easily.

Sadly, most government and public institutions in Nigeria, especially banks, are yet to embrace and inculcate the ramping system into their structures, thereby denying the physically challenged and aged access to their institutions.

It is particularly worrisome, that most Nigerian banks; which are one of the most publicly used institutions in the country, don’t have ramps in their building structures, thereby making such difficult for the physically challenged to access.

A visit by THISDAY to some of the big banks shows that, while some scantily have ramps in few of their branches, some don’t have at all. Also, for those that have ramps, you will discover that the mantrap door system isn’t wheelchair friendly, hence denies the physically challenged access into the building.

This is a major concern to the physically challenged. In a way, institutions without ramps pass a message of seclusion and isolation to the challenged.

Again, these wheelchair ramps can minimise the risk of injuries or accidents during trips to and from grocery stores, medical facilities and other places users frequent.

Provisions of the Disability Act

At this point, the issue of lack of public-friendly spaces is a slap on the face of the recently signed Disability Act, which put a presidential seal on an 18- year struggle to empower the millions of people who were hitherto marginalised and denied access to several social amenities in Nigeria.

With the Act, which was signed on January 24, 2019, the reign of discrimination on the grounds of disability should no longer exist because the bill contains provisions that would ensure people living with disabilities in Nigeria are protected against discrimination and harmful treatment, cruelty and inhuman treatment, provision of facility at public building, protection at situation of risk and humanitarian emergencies, provision for adequate standard of living and social protection.

Also, the law provided for the right of children with disabilities, right to health, education, work and employment, right to drive, right to communication, right to communal life, right to participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure/sport and National Disability Commission to address complaints of harassment, discrimination and harmful practices, amongst others.

With this Act, it is now a crime against the state to discriminate against any person with disability in Nigeria, which is key to rehabilitation and reintegration of persons living with disabilities.