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We can’t access courtrooms unless we crawl – physically challenged lawyers cry out

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The Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN), in collaboration with Disabilities Rights Fund, will in September, begun advocacy  for  accessibility of the justice administration system by Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).

In a statement signed on Monday by its President and Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Daniel Onwe, ALDIN said that the objective of the advocacy would be to make the court environment, its procedures and policing system inclusive of PWDs.

Onwe said that the event  would run from Sept. 1, 2019 to Aug. 31, 2020.

According to him, ALDIN bemoans uneasy access of PWDs to the courtrooms, as they sometimes resort to crawling into the courts.

He said: “The crawling is due to unavailability of specially designed routes for people of their class.

“The association seeks enforcement of the provisions of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act which will help in redressing these problems.

“Our courts have no provision for Braille, tactile marks or other media of assistive literacy; there are no provisions of sign language interpreters either.

“A situation where our systems and structures do not accommodate the peculiarities of PWDs is no longer acceptable.’’

According to him, PWDs suffer diverse form of injustice but cannot approach the courts to obtain justice due to the existence of different architectural, attitudinal and procedural barriers.

“The situation is even worse with our policing system; the architectural setting in the average police station loudly tells you that PWDs are not welcome there.

“A deaf person, who has a complaint to make at the police station, is on his or her own, as there is no provision for sign language interpretation.

“Those on wheelchairs cannot even enter the police stations in the first place, and those with psycho-social disability who get to the police station to lodge complaints may be treated with ignominy or chased away as nuisance.

“ALDIN believes that the Rules of Courts and Practice Directions do not accommodate lawyers or litigants with disabilities and so; the campaign will strategically engage critical stakeholders with a view to collaboratively working out solutions.

“We shall be engaging the chief justice of the Nigeria, chief judge of the Federal High Court, chief judge of the FCT, attorney-general or solicitor-general, inspector-general of Police and NBA president, among others.

“Fortunately, we now have a legal framework to work with – Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act. This project is about giving effect to the provisions of this Act.’’

According to Onwe, the justice administration system is expected to show examples with regard to compliance with the Act and international best practices.

He said that the association also wished to collaborate with President of the NBA, Mr Paul Usoro, in delivering on his  promises to lawyers with disability.

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