Mrs Ibrahim and her husband, Mr Mansur Ibrahim in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, did not know they gave birth to a visually impaired baby.
After some months, they observed that they could not connect expressions between them and the baby but they thought the development could be one of the early challenges among the newborns.
After two years, they sought help from a medical specialist that diagnosed that their son was visually impaired.
The specialist suggested medications to restore the baby’s sight which the couple agreed and the medications began immediately.
In spite of the medications, the condition never changed and they had to live with the pain of having a blind first child.
“We have to start looking for an elementary school where his condition will be accepted and found one school for blind and physically challenged children in FCT,’’ Ibrahim said.
The child, Ishaku, now 24 years old, is a 300-Level student of Political Science in University of Abuja.
Ishaku said: “Being the first child of my parents, I was born blind and it took more than two years and six months for my mother to discover the condition.
“My mother took me to St. Mary Specialist Hospital, Zuba in FCT, where we met a German doctor. The doctor tried all he could and placed me on drugs for two years, ran all manner of test but there was no positive response. The man then got me a medicated eye glasses to restore the sight, but when I used the glasses, I developed headache and I had to abandon it and continue with the medications.
“From there, I was enrolled in primary school for the blind in Zuba and I became an assistant head boy of the school until I left the school in 2008 and later got admission into the university,’’ he explained.
For Ishaku, the study conditions of People Living with Disabilities (PLWDs), especially the visually impaired in Nigerian tertiary schools, can be ameliorated if better facilities are available.
According to him, although University of Abuja doesn’t have many visually impaired students, it is still necessary for the school management to put in place facilities to aid movement and learning.
Abraham Emmanuel, Ishaku’s friend said: “I met Ishaku in Government Secondary School, Kwali and then I saw lots of students with different forms of disabilities and I felt for them.
“His hostel was different and I was curious only to discover that they were blind. I felt for them because it was the first time of seeing visually impaired people in school and it became a challenge for me.
“I later got to know Ishaku and he is a sociable person, from there I became close to him, assisting him. Ishaku is not a burden to me because, in spite of his condition, he doesn’t want to be a liability to anybody.’’
John Paul, 29, another partial blind student of FCT College of Education, Zuba, said that he could move around in the school and go about his regular school schedules unaided.
“Before my parents noticed I was blind, the doctor had to conduct some tests and they realised I had measles.
“Then I underwent a surgical operation and noticed that a socket in the eye was condemned and at that point, there was nothing to do again.
“I had no form of discrimination from students, lecturers, school authority; rather they are more concerned on how I can cope.
“Whenever handouts are distributed, I translate it to a brailing form, study by myself and during examinations, I use the manual typewriter in answering my questions.
“In my first year, after the examinations, my results were commendable and from there the school authority reposed more confidence in me,’’ he said.
Similarly, Abdulraman Lawal, a blind student of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) in Minna, Niger, said that he gained admission on scholarship in 2016 to read Peace Studies and Conflict Resolutions but lost the scholarship in due to the inability of his sponsor to continue in supporting him.
He said that while he was in the school, NOUN had a few assistive technology tools which helped in studying but getting people to supervise the usage was always a problem.
“There was the Non Visual Desktop Assistance which, to an extent, is free and the Job Access with Speech facility which costs about 2,000 dollars; and these two technologies are majorly used in Nigeria.
“Blind people’s education and moving about is expensive and it will be useful if the Federal Government and Nigerian Universities Commission can waive the school fees for visually impaired students,’’ he said.
According to Lawal, if government does not intervene in the education of the blind, they will majorly engage in street begging and while other blind people are being born, they will follow the trend.
He also said that tertiary schools should provide technology room where PLWDs, especially the blind could access materials for their studies.
Mr Ishaq Adamu, National President of Association of the Blind, a lecturer in Gombe State University, observed that inclusion of the blind in education system had been a problem.
“The environment is not well structured to suit the blind person, whether within the university or outside the university.
“I had the opportunity of doing my M.Sc in the University of Manchester and there is Disability Support Office in all tertiary schools in the UK.
“By identifying yourself as a physically challenged person in the school, the authority will contact you to find out the specific need of your disability,’’ he said.
He commended the National Assembly for passing the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018, urging the lawmakers to monitor the implementation of the act.
However, Dr Mohammed Hamza, the Provost, FCT College of Education, Zuba, said that although the college was not designed to address the needs of the physically challenged students, the management considered few physically challenged students for admission.
“If we need to implement inclusive education, we need increased funding so we can have all the laboratories expected to address the need of physically challenged students,’’ he said.
Mr Isaac Ameh, Public Relations Officer, National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), said that the Federal Government established Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo, to address the needs of PLWDs.
Ameh said that the commission had the mandate to review the minimum standards for operating the special school every five years, adding that the last was in 2012 while “another review is ongoing’’.
He said that in the reviewing process, the commission would contact specialists on disabilities both locally and overseas to recommend the global standard for managing special students.
Ameh noted that although other colleges of education were not restricted from admitting physically challenged students, the NCCE would have to inspect the infrastructures to ascertain the standard.
He, however, observed that one special college of education might not be enough to serve the entire PLWDs in the country.
He appealed for one special college of education in each of the six geo-political zones of the country so that distance would not hinder any physically challenged person from accessing education.
All in all, Dr Precious Sango, School Director, International School of Disability Studies, a Nigerian-based institution, said that issues such as physical barrier and societal barrier had contributed to stigmatisation of the physically challenged persons.
According to her, since the bulk responsibility of catering for PLWDs has been on the government, it is important for private organisations to support the institutions in addressing the challenges affecting the physically challenged.