The Association of Lawyers with Disability in Nigeria, has advocated for an inclusive Nigerian Bar Association to address issues that limit their opportunities in the profession.
Mr Daniel Onwe, the national president of the association said this on Thursday at a news conference organised by the group with support of the Disability Right Funds, a non-governmental organisation in Abuja.
The conference with the theme `Campaign for the Accessibility of the Justice Administration System to Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Nigeria’’ focused on the judiciary and the police.
Onwe said that it was an unfortunate irony that the justice administration system in Nigeria, particularly the judiciary and police, did not contemplate the existence of the PWDs.
“The court environments in Nigeria were not designed bearing in mind the existence of both lawyers and litigants PWDs. Most court rooms are upstairs, without ramps or elevators for the access of PWDs.
“ Lawyers and litigants with disabilities on wheelchairs cannot access our courts without going through the indignity of crawling on all fours or being carried by hand like babies.
“The lot of lawyers, especially those with disabilities whose livelihood, depends on their engagement with administration of justice system are not even better off,” he said.
Onwe said that the rules of courts and practice directions did not make any accommodation for lawyers with disabilities and all that affects their career progression and livelihood.
He lamented that not many prospective clients would engage a lawyer who crawls into the courtroom.
According to him, the promotion of the rights of over 27 million Nigerians with disability to a very large extent depends on lawyers with disabilities.
“So, if the lawyers with disabilities cannot access the justice administration system, you can only imagine the fate of the other PWDs.
“Hence, access of the courts to lawyers with disabilities is very critical to the overall protection of the rights of over 27 million Nigerians with disabilities,” he said.
Onwe said that the architectural setting in the court was typically the same at the various police stations all across the country.
According to Onwe, the resultant effect is that when a person with disability is wronged, the court will be a no go area for him or her, as he or her cannot even access such environment.
“Sign language interpreters for the deaf are unknown in our courts and stations; there is no brailing facilities or other assistive facilities for the blind too.
“The necessary facilities to cater for the peculiarities of persons with psycho-social disabilities are absent.
“Those on wheelchair cannot even enter police stations and those with psycho-social disability could not lodge reasonable complaints as there were treated as laughing stocks in most cases,’’ he said.
Onwe urged PWDs who have been abused or discriminated against to sum up courage and seek compensation for the abuse or discrimination, adding that the association would support such persons in prosecuting the offenders.
He, however, called on the Federal Government to in line with the law, constitute the National Commission for Person with Disabilities to spearhead the implementation of the law across board.
He also called on the Inspection General of Police and other heads of relevant agencies to make their stations, offices as well as their procedures accessible to persons with disabilities.
Edited by Ifeyinwa Okonkwo/Kayode Olaitan