Nigeria’s tech industry embraces diversity but ignores persons with disability

The quest for diversity in Africa’s largest tech ecosystem is mostly focused on gender. As important as that is, a group that is often overlooked in diversity and inclusion conversations is persons with disabilities. Recently, some Nigerian tech hubs are advocating to help students at secondary and tertiary levels to develop skills and technical knowledge […]

Nigeria’s tech industry embraces diversity but ignores persons with disability
digital

The quest for diversity in Africa’s largest tech ecosystem is mostly focused on gender. As important as that is, a group that is often overlooked in diversity and inclusion conversations is persons with disabilities.

Recently, some Nigerian tech hubs are advocating to help students at secondary and tertiary levels to develop skills and technical knowledge to ensure that they earn a living, and also create direct and indirect employment for others.

There are also more women-oriented tech startups that are beginning to spring up, and venture capitals are being raised to support women. However, nothing is being done about the inclusion of people living with disabilities.

Data from the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey shows that an estimated 7 percent of household members above the age of five, as well as 9 percent of those 60 or older, experience some level of disability.

This ranges from seeing, hearing, communication, cognition, walking, or self-care. Similarly, 1percent either have a lot of difficulties or cannot function at all in at least one domain.

In Nigeria, the revolution in the tech space is moving at a progressive pace but more work needs to be done in ensuring people with disabilities gain employment opportunities, experts say.

Research shows that most people with disabilities become introverts and resist social connectivity and face-to-face socialization. The inability to relate with family and friends can cause low self-esteem and may result in the social isolation of people living with disabilities.

Employment of Disabled People in Tech Industries

The tech sector is a prolific job generator because as the world is geared towards technology to thrive, more job opportunities are being generated.

The inclusion of people with disabilities to work in organisations by some employers might be a barrier to effective performance, and the responses have become evasive over time. Most tech entrepreneurs – including those that are female-led – BusinessDay spoke to said they have reservations about the topic.

But disability experts say an industry that prides itself on being innovative should not have a problem understanding the value of diverse perspectives, especially those grounded in persistence, drive, and determination in overcoming obstacles, no matter how challenging.

BusinessDay spoke with a CEO in the tech industry on their opinion about employing disabled people in their organisation, and here’s what he said.

“I am not interested in whether the person is able to function with any of their sensory inputs, whether they can’t see or their hands are not working. For me, it is all about can you get the work done and people with disabilities already know how one way or the other they are productive and that is what really matters,” said Chuba Ezekwesili, co-founder of Future Africa.

The ability of employers to see disability from a different angle is one step to overcome the problems around the inclusion of disabled people in the industry.

“Inclusion of people with disabilities in the tech industries depends on intention in terms of how you take care of people because it is possible to employ and hire disabled people in any industry,” Chuba added.

Read also: Gidi Mobile: A local tech including millions of out-of-school Nigerians

Opportunities for Disabled People in the Tech Industry

The moment employers begin to recognise disability as a social construct that is dependent on the environment and environment can be adapted, says Idowu Rasaq, a fashion designer living with a disability. A staircase makes someone in a wheelchair “disabled,” a slope makes that person “abled.” Similarly, the availability of sign language will enable a deaf person to join a conversation.

As much as there are people devising means to help people with disabilities in Africa’s most populous country, Sunday Okafor, a disability advocate does not think the level of priority placed on them is encouraging especially at the government level.

Sunday is the father of Joy Okafor, a partially deaf girl who is 17 years old and a pupil of one of the government-owned schools.

The little champ’s ambition is to be a computer engineer. While she is optimistic about this dream, her father is yet to come to the conclusion that it is possible because he does not see the chances of it happening with the current state of how people living with disabilities are being handled.

“In the western world, the issue of disability is taken seriously in terms of ensuring that disabled people have access to equipment as they have in most banks, schools, and offices. One time my daughter used a hearing aid, and the experience after that time was bad. We ended up going to the hospital because her situation got worse,” Okafor said.

Another challenge is acceptance which is more common among women. For cases where the disabilities are obvious, there is also stigmatization.

There is the need to move away from the idea that people with disabilities are lacking something and begin to see that they are adding something

According to the WHO’s 2019 World Disability Report, women with disabilities are recognized to multiply disadvantaged, experiencing exclusion on account of their gender and disability.

Experts say there has to be a basis for opportunities to thrive in the tech industry and across all industries.

“Usually, you will see that tech follows infrastructure and what that means is that there is an opportunity for people to build infrastructure and tech tools to help people who are disabled. Although there is room for that, it should be more explored as expected,” Ezekwesili said.

The Bill

The Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill was signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in January 2019, following a protest by Nigerians after the president’s denial of receiving the bill months earlier.

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and imposes sanctions including fines and prison sentences on those who contravene it.

It also stipulates a five-year transitional period for modifying public buildings, structures, and automobiles to make them accessible and usable for people with disabilities.

Speaking on the bill Rasaq who has a thriving fashion business raised concerns on the effectiveness of the bill.

“I have had the opportunity to go to some places where I would expect to see facilities specifically made to help people like me but I tell you, just one out of 10 of such places is equipped with these facilities. There is a need for more of these facilities to be put in place, it makes life a lot easier for us,” Rasaq said.

Aside from relying on white-collar jobs, Rasaq stressed the point of ability in disability. He advised that people living with disabilities should learn a skill if they are able to, in order to gain self-dependence and reduce their chances of being a liability to their immediate family and society at large.