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We are here today, under the auspices of the National Coalition of Wheelchair Users in Nigeria (NACOWIN), to celebrate this year’s International Wheelchair Day on March 1, 2022. We use today’s special commemoration event to celebrate wheelchair users across the country who truly are champions and heroes given the difficult circumstances under which they navigate their lives, and also to applaud and commend their benefactors, individuals and corporate entities, care-givers, Civil Society Organizations, Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs), and Government agencies who have empowered wheelchair users in Nigeria, over the years.
NACOWIN is an agglomeration of Associations of persons with physical impairment in Nigeria, who uses wheelchair, namely, National Association of Persons with Physical Disabilities (NAPWPD), Spinal Cord Injury Association of Nigeria SCIAN), and the Amputee Coalition of Nigeria formed to galvanize all Associations of persons with physical impairment, their care givers, and partners towards promotion and celebration of wheelchair as enabler of independent living, and elimination of all barriers in the way of wheelchair users towards attainment of self-reliance and inclusive society.
The International Day of Wheelchair Users was founded in 2008 by Steve Wilkinson, who was born with Spina Bifida and has used a wheelchair for most of his life. He has always pursued life with a ‘can-do’ attitude, and grew up dreaming of making a difference in other peoples’ lives. He founded the day to “make the world more accessible for other wheelchair users and people who have non-standard needs”. The Day also affords the opportunity to raise awareness for the millions of people around the world in need of a wheelchair, but unable to access or afford one.
The objective of the celebration today, among others, is to enable wheelchair users celebrate positive impact a wheelchair has in their lives, to celebrate the great work of the many millions of people who provides wheelchairs, who support and care for wheelchair users and who make the world a better and more accessible place for people with mobility issues. The day is also dedicated to acknowledge and react constructively to the fact that there are many tens of millions of people in the world who need a wheelchair, but are unable to acquire one, and also to advocate for enabling/accessible physical and mental environment for wheelchair users.

As an organization, we celebrate every wheelchair user out there, and this is not just only persons who have disabilities, but the elderly, those that are sick or weary, those that are not able to walk long distances and therefore resort to the use of wheelchair. We celebrate you today, not out of pity or because you are weak but because you are strong. You have to confront daily challenges of inaccessible environment and space; you have to put up with the negative mentality of people who see your wheelchair in negative light. But in reality, your wheelchair is an enabler, a saviour and your life-enhancement tool. Wheelchair is not a curse but a miracle. Those who disdain your wheelchair do so because they do not know any better. How you navigate your wheelchair in a totally inaccessible built environment and amidst such negative attitude proves you are a champion, a hero. Many of you though on the wheel stands tall in the world to be counted among the greats. In all of life endeavours we have wheelchair users not only representing but standing out and are indeed outstanding. You guys are simply extraordinaire.

Today we seize this opportunity to celebrate our Paralympians and sports men/women on wheelchair, for making our country Nigeria proud. We celebrate the many wheelchair users who attends their law practice every day in an inaccessible court environment; the doctors, the engineers, traders and politicians on wheelchair. I know many of you who have become bread winners in your family. You have become a reference point and an inspiration. I say keep the spirit high.

To every individual out there, kindly note that if you have not used a wheelchair before, don’t say God forbid, if you live well enough to an advanced age, you will sure need the aid of a wheelchair. The great Chinua Achebe ended up using wheelchair, the great IBB now uses wheelchair too. If it has not reached your turn, it definitely has not passed your turn. Therefore, I urge you to be kind to those who uses wheelchair now and be positively disposed to them. A wheelchair user is not limited by the altitude that he navigates as the attitude of people that boggles him daily. I encourage you to see, accept and adopt the attitude that wheelchair is not a curse or bane but an enabler, a blessing and indeed a miracle.

I call on the environmental specialist/builders out there to be vast enough in their thinking and profession not to leave wheelchair users out in their environmental plan. Builders, architect and engineers are called upon to conform with the law, standards and building codes. The relevant sections of the Disability law penalizes builders who would not adhere to building codes in a way to make built environment accessible to all including those on wheelchair. Today, we challenge ableism in all ramifications, prevalent in our society. Buildings and structures are not to be designed for those who move on their legs alone but also for those who move on wheelchairs. I make bold to say that Nigeria will not be able to contain and contend with her numerous citizens on wheelchair the day they decide to march in protest of the prevailing inaccessible environment.

We call on the government and all well meaning individuals to continue to put in place enabling environment for wheelchair users to thrive, to participate in life endeavours and be productive members of the society. As we celebrate the freedom that wheelchair brings, our message to the society is simply to make the society accessible and inclusive. We deserve to here and we have right of movement. Congratulations to us all.

Barr. Yusuf Iyodo
Convener, NACOWIN

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