Synopsis of ethnographic study of experiences of developmental disability in educational acquisition in Nigeria

This post was written by recent graduate Catherine Eje.

A drawn map of Nigeria

My experience with disability studies exposed me to the reality of life in general. I began to realize that we are all disabled one way or the other in life and do have persons living with disability around us and exist in our daily lives.   At a stage in my DST88 Research method course, I decided that it is time I started making a difference in the life of persons with disabilities in developing countries as they experience more critical situations than what we have around us in the global south. The curiosity to know and understand disability experiences globally in order to be able to make an impact drove me to carry out a study on disability experience in an international environment – Nigeria for my final thesis.

Nigeria in Africa is a third world country and happen to be a good subject for my study as I travelled back prior to that period to Nigeria and discovered the fact that the plight of disabled persons have not changed much. A neighbour living near my home in Abuja that has a son living with autism found it difficult to get placement for her son either at special need school or regular classroom.  According to the executive secretary of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Nigeria “Nigeria has a discriminatory policy against persons with disabilities as far as access to public buildings was concerned” (Thisday Newspaper, 2014, pg.41). Discrimination against persons with disabilities in Nigeria and other countries in the global south is not limited to only access to infrastructure, but spans through their entire social life

Society defines them by what they do not have rather than what they have; what they cannot do rather than what they can do; they are relegated, denigrated and stigmatized on the basis of some retrogressive myth and tradition.  They are abused physically and sexually with impunity and in extreme cases; even their right to life itself is denied them” (Down 2 Earth, 2013 pg.04). Disability in the Nigerian environment is seen as a curse hence continuous denial when an individual experience disability either at birth or acquired.  Nigeria considering its complex culture and being the most populous black African nation will serve as a good target for African disability studies in a broader sense. According to Charlton (Davis, 2010, pg.147). “The normal perception is that nothing can be done for disabled children. This has to do with prejudice and old-fashioned thinking that this punishment comes from God, some evil spirits or magic”. I discovered that issues of prejudice and ableism is very predominant and happen to be among the major barriers facing individuals living with disabilities in the global south. Labelling and negative media representation is the order to the day for the individuals.

Since covering the entire disabled community experiences in the study will be too broad, focus therefore is narrowed down to individuals with developmental disabilities(DD) and their lived experiences with concentration on inclusion and exclusion, accessible education while basing the analysis on the social model framework. Results of the inquiry were obtained through responses from interview participants from three selected schools and representatives of various school boards. The findings from the research highlight the complexities that make the study environment (Nigeria) challenging, such as issues of culture, language, religion, poverty, underdevelopment, stigmatization and how they intersect with disabilities. Social construction of disability happen to play a big role in disability oppression and discriminations meted out to persons with disabilities in Nigeria. Various forms of barriers were discovered as impediment towards educating individuals with disabilities in Nigeria, such as funding, inadequate trained staff, and inaccessible environment, lack accessible technology in schools and for individuals.  Attitudinal and cultural barriers also exist. Furthermore, of bigger concern is lack of policy and program solutions relevant to addressing identified challenges.

From my findings, as a matter of urgency, support is needed to help individuals and groups advocate intensively for policy makers attention to be drawn to their exclusive situations as well as possibly involving persons with disabilities in policy making positions. I stayed in Nigeria for 8 months for my study and over this period, I stumbled over diverse issues confronting persons living with disability yearning to be addressed and distinctly through advocacy.

This research adventure has turned out to be the beginning of my journey into the world of advocacy.  I have started work on forming an advocacy group for families of individuals with developmental disability and particularly cerebral palsy. Over the period of my project I was able to establish associations with some of the special schools and families that would eventually become the backbone of the group. Recommendations for further research is required in so many other areas – particularly accessibility, social services and disability justice.


By Catherine Eje


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