PLWD: Structural barriers hinders us from politics

Persons Living with Disabilities (PLWD) have said that structural barriers were a great limitation to their participation in politics in Nigeria. Ms Grace Jerry, Executive Director, Inclusive Friends Association (IFA) said this at a High Level Public-Private Sector Forum with the theme’’` Democracy that Delivers’’ organised by the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute (IRI). Jerry said that persons with disabilities had been marginalised in the Nigerian electoral system among other things especially by situating electoral activities in unfriendly structures. She said that natural barriers such as hilly grounds, gutters among others also posed challenges to PLWD, decrying that the electoral commission seldom considered those factors. “When I went for my voter card registration, I met an open drainage in front of the centre, so because I could not cross it, I had to return home without carrying out the exercise. “When places where people vote or register are located in places we can’t access then we have been robbed of that process. “There are so many other barriers like that hindering persons with disabilities from exercising their franchise that need to be removed after all we all belong to one shared humanity.’’ Jerry said that there was the need to push for barriers to be removed to enhance the participation of persons with disabilities in all sectors. Mr Joseph Oguniran, Vice Chairman, National Association of the Blind, said that during the just concluded Osun election, there were places the blind could not access. Oguniran said that most times it was difficult getting to poling units and other times, the electoral materials for the blind were seldom used by officials.
He called on the electoral commission to always put persons with disabilities into consideration when selecting locations and buildings for electoral activities. This he said was important for their voices to be heard in the nation adding that they would have access to health, education etc if they were able to vote in their choice candidates. He called on INEC to train and strengthen its personnel ahead of the 2019 elections and make materials available. He also urged the commission to have improved knowledge of handling persons with disabilities to enhance their participation. Mr Jesse John, Program Manager, Access Nigeria Campaign, said that the nation needed to rethink the way structures were set up. John said that work places and other buildings were highly inaccessible to persons with disabilities so their social participation was low. He said that this in turn translated into a low economic life for them in general because even when they met job criteria access to the building remained a challenge since some were story buildings without lifts. He called for the establishment of facilities that supported persons with disabilities as many of them had to quit jobs due to this factor. Mr Jake Epelle, Founder, The Albino Foundation, said that the lack of data about persons with disabilities in Nigeria was limiting the help they got. Epelle also said that the lack of political will to deliberately carry persons with disabilities along in Nigeria was another hindrance to their participation. He said that Nigeria needed to imbibe best practices, a working model to enhance the lives and participation of persons living with disabilities. He also stressed the need to make available magnifying glasses for persons with disability on Election Day to ensure equal opportunity for all.

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