How a Mandela Fellow is Giving Hope to People Living with Disabilities
What started as an ordinary visit to a home for people living with disabilities would end up being a source of hope for people living with disabilities in Nigeria.
As the world marks the International Day of Persons Living with Disabilities, Racheal Inegbedion shares the incident that has seen her become an ardent champion for people living with disabilities.
“I was visiting a home for people with disabilities when I saw something that inspired me to champion for the rights of persons with disabilities. When someone visits, the residents sing a welcome song and share in a prayer with their guests,” I remember. “One of the young women, who had a beautiful voice, sang longer than I suppose the workers thought she should. I saw the worker strike the young woman and tell her to be quiet! I was so angry.
I spoke to the head of the home and the worker apologized, but I left feeling like I needed to do more. As I thought of the lives of people with disabilities in Nigeria, I realized that it wasn’t just a situation with that individual worker that needed to change. My community as a whole needed to see people with disabilities for their full humanity, potential, and dignity. I began to dream of what was possible. And so, I started.
I organize community projects to educate caregivers and families on building their capacity for empathy, expanding their emotional intelligence, and other psychological muscles they could flex to better serve children and youth adults with disabilities. Since that time, I have gone on to offer career development services, awareness days in the community, and advocacy for policies that impact people with disabilities. I have offered programs in STEM, robotics, and assistive technology for children and others with special needs.
Under the Department of Economic and Social Affairs Disability; the theme for IDPD this year is “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.”
As the world marks the International Day of People Living with Disabilities, persons with disabilities should be encouraged to take up leadership positions since this will make them take care of the needs of the other persons with disabilities in an organization since normal people may not understand the challenges that they may be having in performing different duties that they are assigned to perform.
Global policies around employment should make sure that all people regardless of their disability are offered equal employment opportunities since all people need the jobs for their survival. Besides, a retention policy should be in place in case an employee becomes disabled.
Employment opportunities for people living with disabilities
We urge organisations and employers of labour to attract the widest pool of talent from persons with disabilities.
Ensure fair and consistent treatment of all applicants. Learn directly from colleagues with disabilities locally & globally. Drive consistent best practice worldwide to break barriers around employing persons with disabilities.
More than ever, there is need to partner with disability organizations like the Special Needs Initiative for Growth to engage youths with disabilities into the workforce; this is one of the best strategies to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
Our work is helping to address systematic limitation or denial of employment opportunities to capable and competent persons with disabilities who should be part of the 5% overarching framework of public and private work sectors. Our work is also helping to train and build the capacity of persons with disability in good communication, leadership, teamwork, adaptability, accommodations for productive working output, digital literacy, Internet entrepreneurship, PWDs labour rights and other relevant career practices related to individual goals so that they acquire the requisite skills needed for them to create or attain jobs in the job market with employers.
Our work is also promoting the mainstreaming of disability, giving employers of labour and PWDs an opportunity to become role models in respecting, supporting and celebrating human diversity. it also aligns to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 8, which is reducing inequalities and providing access to equal employment opportunities.
Technology driven solutions
Our innovation is about proffering adaptive learning opportunities through leadership and technology projects for young adults with Down Syndrome, autism spectrum disorder and visual impairment based on their learning styles. In collaboration with several development organizations in Nigeria, we lead the creation of the Stem, Robotics and I workshops, which combine technology and special needs education in order to provide these learners with disabilities with the opportunity to enhance their communication skills while learning about robotics, physics, drones piloting and electricity.
Also, this year we scaled our innovation to the young adults with Down syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Visual Impairment through upgrading their capacity in leadership and tech by reinvesting their potentials and skills through added education on drones piloting and other robotics learning, after which the young adults with Down Syndrome, Autism and VI are continually integrated into Internships with an Educational technology Company in Lagos State, Nigeria to integrate in practical activities related to communications, team collaboration and other working tasks.
The interns from the Down Syndrome, Autism and Visually Impaired community are provided personal and professional counseling, with the experience of a culturally diverse environment which fosters leadership pluralism and diversity between the working professionals and the interns (all young adults with disabilities)
This impact is also helping to promote social and economic inclusion opportunity channels for marginalised and special needs persons in our community. The impact not only improved their leadership and communication skills while promoting social inclusion for the communities of persons with disabilities but this has helped them to pursue a career in leadership and technology in Nigeria.
Moreover, due to the demonstration of leadership in doing more to provide learners with disabilities the right learning opportunities in achieving the respect of diversity through education and technology, we were announced and recognised by the United Nations Secretary-general Envoy on youth as one of the 10 young leaders inspired to change the world during the covid-19 crisis.
Also, in 2021, as a result of the leadership and ICT support that we proffer to the young adults with disabilities, we were awarded as the only Nigerian CSO representing Africa to become an Awardee of 2021 best innovative practices for employment and ICT for persons with disabilities by the Zero Project.
In September 2021, Google named us Google Leap Takers for our project as one of the “Best Examples of IT’s incredible impact on our world”.
What makes our innovation stand out is that we focus on demand-driven IT career and leadership development to enable young adults with disabilities to gain access to employment or become self-employed, after which they are mentored, supported to secure an internship or job, or given a small grant to start a business.
Learning materials are converted into Easy-to-Read 1format for trainees with intellectual disabilities. Special needs educators are trained in the same subjects so that they can transfer skills to their students.
As a person championing for the rights of those abled differently I am determined to see at least a job quota of 5 to 25% of millions of persons with disabilities in Africa who are competent and capable of work practices; get to exercise their labour in Private and Public employment sectors by 2030. This way we are promoting diversity, equity and inclusion and breaking the barriers of systematic poverty and harmful practices that are subjected to them.”
Did you know?
- The Founding Executive Director of the Special Needs Initiative For Growth also known as Initiative For National Growth Africa
- A 2019 Winner of the Global Social Thinking Contest Organized by Ashoka and British Council
- A 2019 Ashoka Changemaker
- A 2020/2021 Mandela Washington Fellow
- A 2021 Global Exchange on Religion in Society Fellow by the European Union External Action
- A 2021 Magaret Ekpo Youth Fellow
- Was announced and recognised by the United Nations Secretary-general Envoy on youth as one of the 10 young leaders inspired to change the world during the covid-19 crisis