SANGO, IBADAN: At age four, Adeyemi Adegboyiga was diagnosed with short-sightedness in 2003. Despite undergoing surgery to correct it, his condition did not improve. Instead, it developed into full-blown cataracts - the clouding of the eye's lens - in both eyes.
Last year, with just one year left to complete his senior secondary education, his situation became so bad that he could not cope at the Lagos State Model College in Lagos where he was a student.
Unable to bear the frustration that came with his inability to carry out some activities without support, plus the discrimination he regularly received from other students, he dropped out of school last October.
“I felt so bad [that] I had to drop out since I was unable to learn or achieve anything from [t]here (school),” the 21-year-old said. “I faced discrimination from fellow students, [who reminded me] that I didn’t have good sight as others. So for me to interact or get the memo of the teachers in the class got hard, and the students mocked me.”
About 25 million Nigerians live with at least one disability or the other. That is about 2.5% of the one billion worldwide disability prevalence, of which 1% have difficulties functioning without support and regular healthcare service.
Globally, people with disabilities are less likely to be employed than those without disabilities. It is worse in developing countries like Nigeria, where limited economic opportunities means disabled people sometimes resort to street begging for survival. And only 48 percent of children with disabilities complete their primary education in Nigeria.
Across the country, some citizens view disability as a curse or a spiritual punishment for wrongdoing. To fight discrimination, the government adopted several measures, including ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 and signing the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018.
The law prohibits all forms of discrimination against people with disabilities. It calls for a N10,000 ($24.3) fine for offenders (individuals and corporations) and sets a five-year period after which public transport systems and buildings must be accessible to people with disabilities.
But because only 10 out of Nigeria’s 36 states have adopted the federal law, discrimination against people with disabilities is still very high here, making it difficult to close the economic and educational gaps between those with disabilities and those without.
However, things changed for Adegboyiga in November 2020 when his family was told about the Network for Inclusion of People with Special Needs or NIPSN, a nonprofit that influences people with disabilities to reclaim their future through counselling, rehabilitation, and vocational training in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State in Nigeria's southwest region.
That month, Adegboyiga moved into the nonprofit’s dormitory, where he met 29 other children and adults with different disabilities receiving rehabilitation.
Once he arrived at the facility, he was first counselled on why he should see his condition as one he can overcome by mastering how to cope with it and go ahead to fulfill his dreams.
Next, he received mobility training that included walking with a cane and moving around his environment safely, playing blind football games, and others. He was also trained in braille reading, typewriting, and how to use assistive technologies like software that read out words from his android phone.
He is one of 48 beneficiaries under the nonprofit’s care, 30 at the dormitory and 18 at their homes. All beneficiaries (including those with visual, hearing, and physical impairments) who arrive at the dormitory are first counselled and given psychological support and training specific to their coping needs. Those needing assistive equipment like wheelchairs and others are provided with some.
They live at the dormitory for at least one year and possibly additional six months, depending on the peculiarity of one’s condition. During this period, they also receive livelihood training in various areas, including flower vase making, bead making, disinfectant and liquid soap production, and others.
While the children are sponsored to complete their education up to secondary level, adults - upon completing their stay at the dormitory - are given free raw materials and equipment, plus a stipend of N20,000 ($49) to start their independent production of whatever they learned. At least 12 adults have been set up this way since the organization began in April 2019.
Today, with renewed confidence and new communication skills, Adegboyiga has reawakened hopes for his future.
Though he has not returned to school, with the support of NIPSN, he has a specially assigned academic teacher tutoring him at the dormitory as he prepares to write the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination administered by the National Examination Council (NECO). It is one of several certificates he needs for university admission.
He no longer allows discrimination from others to drown him in self-pity and discouragement. Instead, he takes time to explain that his “disability is not inability” and that he can achieve his dreams like every other young person.
We 'deserve respect from society'
NIPSN’s founder, Hammed Sekinat, was inspired in 2012 during her time studying special education (to specialise in taking care of people with special needs) at the Federal College of Education (Special) in Oyo.
In the school - designed for people with disabilities and those training to take care of them - nearly 50% of her classmates were visually impaired. But she observed some reasonable level of brilliance among some of them, which made her conclude that people with disabilities can be happy and fulfilled if given the needed support.
“When I got close to them, I saw that they are brilliant too, and that was where my interest in them started. I decided I will do something to help [more of] them,” said Sekinat, who launched NIPNS in April 2019, two years after completing her studies in special education (to take care of people with special needs) at the University of Ibadan, where she had gone for more learning after finishing at the College of Education.
Sekinat usually appears on radio shows in Ibadan, advocating for disability rights and encouraging parents who have children with disabilities to give them the best education they can afford.
To sustain NISPN, Sekinat sometimes sends letters to private individuals calling for financial support. Also, with two staff, nine volunteers, and beneficiaries who have mastered their craft, NIPSN produces bead bags, liquid soap, and flower vases. The products are then given out to members of the public who, in turn, make voluntary donations to support her.
However, she is worried that these revenue sources might not sustain the group in the long term, especially since her approach involves housing, feeding, training, and taking care of each beneficiary's daily needs for a year or more. She said she needs support from corporate bodies to help her continue.
For Adegboyiga and several other children at the dormitory, NIPSN represents the hope for reclaiming the future they once thought they had lost when they were first pronounced physically challenged.
“NIPSN is just like a miracle sent to me; everything has been good so far [since I came to NIPSN],” said Adegboyiga, who wants to study mass communication at the university to become a radio presenter.
“The visually impaired, the physically challenged ones, which are not loved by society, I really want to do something and speak for them so that people can come back to their senses and see that these people [with disabilities] are also humans and they deserve respect too from society,” he said of his motivation.