Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, Head of Sustainability, Access Bank Plc

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Subjects of Interest

  • Corporate Communications
  • Social Development
  • Sustainability
  • Sustainable Development

Towards the integration of persons living with disabilities 16 Feb 2023

Holistic inclusion of Persons Living with Disabilities (PLWDs) into every aspect of society is a moral duty for both individuals and organisaations. Inclusion of PLWDs in socio-economic policy consideration deserves more attention. Over one billion people – about 15 percent of the world's total population – have one form of disability or the other, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report. The number is staggering, and it underscores the global scale of the issue. However, the report notes that one-fifth of the disabled population suffers from significant disabilities, while the rest suffer from mild disabilities.

The plights of PLWDs demand appropriate actions. People living with various forms of disability suffer lack of access to many basic socio-economic infrastructures and services, such as primary education and proper healthcare and even employment. The barriers they face include unavailability of assistive devices and technologies, discrimination, and stigmatisation. As a result, there is a higher level of poverty amongst the disabled populations.

The United Nations has embedded the socioeconomic integration of PLWDs in the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 4 of the SDGs advocates equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for vulnerable people, including persons with disabilities. Goal 8 seeks to achieve full, decent, and productive employment for all. And Goals 10, 11, and 17, which deal with reducing inequality, achieving sustainability within the cities and communities, and effective partnerships, all include provisions for the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

However, PWDs continue to underlie societal structures in many developing countries without sufficient assistance. They are strewn across the major roads and alleyways begging for arms and finding their rest there at night. In Nigeria, these unsightly scenes have become normal, and even customary. They are the places that we go to deliver assistance to the needy people, expecting to always find them there.

Although there is no distinct data on PLWDs in West Africa, a 2018 survey in Nigeria indicated that about seven percent of household members that are aged five and above in the West African sub-region typically experience some level of difficulty in at least one functional domain – seeing, hearing, walking, communicating, etc. Although certain steps are being taken across all tiers of government to address the needs of PLWDs, the level of assistance is not making much dent on the problem. As such, disability has been synonymous with poverty in our society. What’s more, many urban settlements are not planned, leaving disabled people out of consideration in public works. Very few buildings across most cities in the country can be accessed by physically disabled people.

The inadequate public support to alleviate the plights of PLWDs calls for significant supportive interventions by the private sector. In this regard, Access Bank PLC has committed to being a beacon of light in the African private sector. Access Bank is determined to ensure that its corporate and social responsibility agenda is felt across all the spectrums of need, including PLWDs. The bank currently serves as Chair of the Nigerian Business Disability Network (NBDN) and is championing efforts to raise awareness and foster strategic collaborations between organisations and individuals that will drive disability inclusion in the Nigerian private sector.

In line with these objectives, Access Bank, alongside other members of the NBDN, has inaugurated the Nigeria Diversity and Inclusion Conference. The maiden edition of the conference was held on 19 May 2022, in Lagos. The event was held to commemorate the Global Accessibility Awareness Day and brought together key stakeholders in the disability support and advocacy space, including James Lalu, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Persons with Disability; Adebukola Adebayo, a Disability Consultant with the World Bank Group in Nigeria; and various private sector leaders. The hybrid event, which had approximately 600 participants, presented a platform for businesses to understand the barriers to disability inclusion in Nigeria from the perspective of people with disabilities and learn from organisations that have commenced their supportive, transition journey.

Also, in August 2022, Access Bank hosted a breakfast roundtable to establish mutually rewarding partnerships between Sightsavers International – an organisation working to prevent avoidable blindness, support equality for people with disabilities, and advocate for change – and Nigerian private sector leaders. The primary objective of this partnership is to scale disability-inclusive workplace cultures in Africa, in line with the SDGs. The roundtable also facilitated discourses, strategies, and practical approaches to inclusive development and protecting the human rights of persons with disabilities.

For more than eight years, Access Bank has partnered with Project Enable Africa, an organisation supporting communities of persons with disabilities. In 2017, the bank co-engineered the first disability inclusion hub in Nigeria, focusing on digital inclusion for persons with disabilities. Moreover, the bank has provided funding and organisational development support for programs and institutional strengthening of Project Enable Africa. This is part of fulfilling the mandate of sustainability at Access Bank to promote inclusion of the community of persons with disabilities in Nigeria.  

Access Bank’s longstanding commitment to impacting people with disabilities has impacted the lives of thousands of individuals and organisations across the continent. Through its eight years of supporting Project Enable Africa, the bank has seen over 3,000 persons with disabilities and their caregivers trained in digital and employability skills. This partnership has also resulted in 500 entrepreneurs with disabilities trained in entrepreneurship and over 60 organisations trained and supported to become disability confident.

Understanding the importance of the media in shaping agendas, Access Bank has sponsored the training of about 50 media houses in disability-inclusive reporting to sharpen the spotlight on the challenges of, and the ways to support, people with disabilities. The bank has also strengthened the organisational capacity of Project Enable Africa to partner with other reputable organisations, which has enabled it to raise over $500,000 in funding.

Furthermore, Access Bank has hosted the annual Disability Inclusion and Leadership (DIAL) awards to celebrate achievement and progress made on disability inclusion and produced and screened three documentaries on the various challenges faced by persons with disabilities. These documentaries were featured at international conferences such as the International AIDS Conference in Durban and the United Nations General Assembly side events in New York.

Despite these efforts, there remains significant gaps in the disability support space. To bridge the gaps, more public and private sectors organisations must work collaboratively to create a truly inclusive environment where all individuals can access opportunities that their abilities allow. With the right support, everyone, including persons with disabilities, can harness their abilities. Access Bank believes in a society that genuinely empowers and celebrates humanity and our individual and collective abilities harnessed in productive endeavours.

Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan is Head, Group Sustainability, Access Corporation.