It has been observed that disabled people especially those that are paralyzed from the waist down, also known as paraplegics are often times neglected when the issue of housing comes under focus. This article highlights the housing needs of Nigerian Paraplegics and calls governmental organizations to action.Disability is a common human condition and people with disabilities are often products of natural existence. They mostly constitute a pitiable sight and have been widely discriminated against. It appears Africa’s disabled population is one of the continent’s most marginalized and poorest inhabitants: unable to enjoy optimal access to city’s facilities, education, work, and because of their disabilities, many of them turn to begging for alms to survive.
Finding good data about disability incidences worldwide is challenging. However, it is obvious that quite a recognizable percentage of global population has one form of disability or the other. It is estimated that there are as many as 650 million people with one form of disability or the other worldwide, which translates to 10% of the world’s population. More than 80 million of these population are Africans, while it is believed that 3.6 million Nigerians are disabled.
The Nigeria civil war (1967 – 1970), sicknesses, accidents and birth circumstances contribute significantly to the causes of disabilities in Nigeria. Unfortunately, neither houses that accommodate the needs of these paraplegics nor useful information on how to create it has been widely available in the country.
Besides, the heavy presence of staircases; uneven, unpaved and rough floor surfaces in public places; as well as the marked absence of ramps; lifts in high rise public buildings and side-walk along which paraplegics could pull their wheelchairs are manifestations of the fact of the neglect of their accessibility needs.
There seem to be no facilities for disabled people in public places and buildings in Nigeria. There is apparently no wheelchair access for street crossings or adequate facilities that aid access into public buildings, and no special provisions for convenient public transportation. Affordable and practical mobility aids are still rare; if a person is physically disabled, he or she generally does not leave home. Some government rehabilitation centers do exist, but they are very limited in number.
Generally, as a developing country, the quality of life of an average Nigerian is noticeably poor both for the able ones and those living with disabilities; the settlements themselves are obstructive and are responsible for making even the able-bodied to behave as disabled persons. The technically disabled suffer even more because they have to cope with their particular limitations in addition to those induced by the environment.
The needs of people living with disabilities and the recognition of their special problems can show the way to a radical and efficient solution of many universal problems of human settlement. Since persons with disabilities may have special accessibility and housing needs due to their impairment, in some cases, simply treating them exactly the same way as others may not ensure that they have equal access and opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
More so, the United States (US) Department of Housing and Urban Development identified people with disabilities as one of the primary population experiencing ‘worst–case’ accessibility and housing needs. Many other authorities also share the view that adequate accessibility and suitable housing are of great importance for Paraplegics. Access to services is not just about installing ramps and widening doorways for wheelchair users – it is about making services easier to use for all disabled people.
So many factors have been attributed to the causes of impairments and disabilities. From a recent survey, 60% suffers from paraplegia due to sickness, mainly polio; another 24% is as a result of road traffic accidents; only 4% and 12% have the condition by reason of old age and conditions of birth respectively.
This shows that anyone could suffer the condition from any of the varied causes. It goes further to make a justification for the creation of adequate accessibility and housing for paraplegics, since anyone could suffer the condition.
Besides, these poor stricken paraplegics are exposed to numerous traffic dangers. In other to improve the living conditions and put a stop to the discrimination of paraplegics there is a need to consider the following;
1. Presence of a wheelchair accessible pedestrian bridge (that is, one built with ramp)
2. The absence of staircases or where it is has a complementary ramp
3. Coverage over drainages and other openings
4. Smooth, paved and even floor surfaces
5. Presence of lift in high rise buildings
6. Presence of side walks
7. Absence of curbs
8. Wide entrances
Buildings and places that meet the above requirements would have succeeded to ease accessibility to paraplegics. People living with disabilities deserve the protection of their right to access of public places and suitable housing.
Hence, their rights to good living and human existence must be secured by the society to which they rightfully belong. Every form of discrimination which is reflected in the design made for public buildings must be discouraged.
As a matter of national importance and urgency, the government should ensure that all public buildings comply with building codes, which of course must guarantee access to all potential users.
In pursuit of this objective; Engineers, Architects, Town Planners and all who are involved in development projects must carry out wide consultations and give adequate considerations to providing equal access, in keeping with the view that the society contains a mix of less physically able people.
All existing public buildings should as much as possible be adapted to suit the accessibility requirements of paraplegics. This may mean the installation of complementary ramp where a step exists. In addition, owners and contractors of new developments which fail to provide adequate access should be heavily penalized.
Paraplegics can be economically gainful to the society, therefore rehabilitation and vocational training is important. This may be conducted in specially equipped centers. More importantly, they should be given enough support (credit) to establish businesses in location of their preference. Therefore, the only reason for which paraplegics may be confined to institution housing is for care giving and training, after which good re-settlement plans should be made for those who may not require serious and constant medi-care for which some may be confined.
Anybody could become a paraplegic at any time, therefore design and construction should be made in such a way to accommodate all life situations. Paraplegics, when provided with a stimulating environment can have a good life despite functional impairment.