Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bringing disability rights to the forefront

By Ishiyaku Adamu
Participating in the 2016 Mandela Fellowship was a huge opportunity.  It gave me the chance to meet America’s political, business, and academic elite, as well as an inspiring team of volunteers, especially disability rights activists.  Without a doubt, my engagement with this group of Americans during the fellowship had a great impact and will continue to shape my understanding and interpretation of leadership and life in general.
In the United States, the rights of persons with disability are guaranteed by law.  I discovered that the present situation of persons with disabilities in Nigeria is similar to that of Americans with disabilities in the 1950s and 1960s.  It took many years of struggle and lobbying to get a law that protects the rights of persons with disabilities.  In 1990, a comprehensive and far reaching disability act was passed known as Americans with Disability Act [ADA].  The purpose of the ADA is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

As a disability rights activist in Nigeria, I learned two basic things from my American counterparts: first, is the need to work closely with other local civil society organisations, families of the disabled, and the media.  The second, and perhaps the more important lesson, is that no matter how long it takes, all hope should not be lost.

As expected, I am returning from the fellowship with lots of ideas and projects on my mind but two stand out as my priorities: the first project which is tagged ‘BRING THEM OUT’ is an advocacy campaign on the importance of enrolling children with disabilities in schools in the North-East of Nigeria. The campaign will focus on the families of those children.

The second project will focus on the need to include internally displaced persons (IDPs) with disabilities in the current efforts of government to rehabilitate and resettle internally displaced persons in the North-East of Nigeria.  Various reports have specifically decried the impact of the Boko Haram violence on women and children, declaring that they are its worst victims.  Unfortunately persons with disabilities are only mentioned in passing or not at all.  My campaign intends to bring out the fact that people with disabilities and their families have the same basic rights as any other person and should be part of the mainstream response.
The 2011 World Report on Disabilities by World Health Organization [WHO] estimated that 15 % of people in developing countries have a disability; therefore if the Boko Haram crisis has created 2 million IDPs, at least 300,000 of them would have a disability.  This certainly justifies the need for an inclusive rehabilitation and resettlement process.

Ishiyaku Adamu was part of the Nigerian cohort to this year’s Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.  He was on the Civic Leadership track and his fellowship was at Indiana University – Bloomington.

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