As part of equal opportunity measures, special arrangements are expected to be made for students with disabilities to make learning and living comfortable exercise for them and not make them disadvantaged in competition with their colleagues with no disability. In this special report, Haleem Olatunji, writing from the University of Ibadan, draws attention to what it is for special students to live and study in Nigeria’s premier university. Enjoy.
“Every person with a disability is an individual.” – Itzhak Perlman, legendary Israeli violinist and disability activist.
Life at the University of Ibadan is a mesh of different strokes for different folks. For Taiwo, it can be said to be fun and easy, at least compared to some other tertiary schools in the Nigeria. He wakes in the morning, rushes downstairs to pray, visits the lavatory, quickly fetches water to bathe, rushes down to the cafeteria to eat, runs down to class, says hello to the library and, on return, visits his friends in other halls. After having enough fun, he returns to his hall, where he visits the reading room before retiring to bed.
However, the same cannot be said for Musa, who has to climb at least 32 stairs while on crutch, just to get a bowl of water, nor for Grace, who finds it difficult to visit her friends and colleagues at will. Tope who has never visited the reading room in his hall, after spending almost three years of his life therein, not as a result of laziness, but due to the unfriendly nature of the University of Ibadan environment, of which the halls of residence and faculties are key features.
It is well-known that at the University of Ibadan, admission is mainly by merit, but it is quite unfortunate that not everyone enjoys the years accompanying such meritorious accomplishment. While some live everyday with the intention of getting their fame on campus, some live with the hope of getting used to the daily dose of pain which the structure of the halls of residence as well as the faculties bring.
To a large extent, there is in existence the freedom of movement; but this is only meant for those who can easily access the provided paths. How about others who, due to an unwilling unfortunate incident at a point or the other, cannot tread easily on the paths provided for others? How about those whose physiological traits have made them exceptions to several general provisions? How about the minority who exist in this tower dominated by the needs and wishes of the majority? How about the special persons who are students of this institution, which has been designed for students with “able bodies”? This is what defines the enjoyment of Taiwo who is able-bodied and amounts to punishment for Musa, Grace and Tope who are special persons.
Having observed the inequality that prevails at different corners of this institution –especially as it concerns students with disabilities – an investigation was conducted to bring to limelight the state of affairs at the University of Ibadan; to give voice to the voiceless; to call the needed urgent attention; and to ensure that the University of Ibadan retains its title as the first and best not only in Nigeria but also to maintain a higher rank in the world at large. While both staff and students of the University of Ibadan celebrated the news of the institution being among the top 1,000 ranked in the world, we should also ask ourselves—especially the management—what position will the University of Ibadan be in if the criteria for judging best Universities were to be the disability-friendliness of such institutions?
ACCOMMODATION, RESTROOMS, BATHROOMS AND WATER
The issue of awful lavatory in the halls of residence within University of Ibadan is no longer news. The average Uite laments about the state of these facilities which one cannot do without—except for those who are ready to stink forever. But the writer can only congratulate the able bodies living in these halls of residence, for he understands that they are more fortunate than others. Taiwo can at least squat should he decide not to sit on the bacteria-filled toilet seat, but some cannot afford to squat due to the paralysis of some parts of their bodies. They uncomfortably sit on these seats out of lack of choice, hoping that there would be divine intervention, should the bacteria win the war against their antibodies.
Miss Grace Kolawole, a visually impaired student who resides in Queen Elizabeth II Hall told the Campus Reporter that the only consideration for those with special needs in the Hall is the provision of a special toilet. She said: “Queens Hall is not disability-friendly, although they have consideration for those with special needs. They are usually given ground floor on Block A and they made preparations for two kinds of toilet; there is water closet and a very low one that those with physical challenge can use. That is the only consideration I see.” It was also noted that while there is a special floor for special students in Queens Hall, the issue of water remains a problem.
However, this is not the case in other Halls of residence, where disabled students also reside. In fact, some bathrooms are too small for a physically challenged person confined to the chair to access. Mr. Idowu Adeyemi, a physically challenged law student and President of the Special Persons’ club, UI, narrated to Campus Reporter a testimony of a student named Feyintola, who once stayed in his room in Kuti Hall:
“He told me by himself that while he was here, he never used the Kuti bathroom. I asked him how he took his bath. He said he takes his bath at the balcony every day. So he had to wake up as early as 4am, to take his bath at the balcony. Why? Because this is a person that is confined to wheel chair and the entrance of Kuti Hall bathroom is extremely narrow that no wheel chair can get inside. Let us not talk of the deplorable state as to how dirty the states of the facilities are.”
On the issue of water, Mr. Musa — a physically challenged student, who resides on the third floor in Kenneth Mellanby Hall — must ensure that nothing goes wrong in the relationship between him and his roommates or neighbours, unless he might forfeit the help they render to him in getting water from the ground floor. At night, specifically in the event of power outage, he would have to climb staircases on a dark path just to get water to cook, take his bath or visit the lavatory. These challenges are different from the initial wars those with special needs have to fight before securing accommodation at the beginning of the session. Most times, they are left to suffer the same ordeal as the able bodies on campus. Findings from one of the porters who have served in at least two different Halls of residence in UI showed that the special students have to just struggle the way the regular students will struggle before they get their accommodation.
READING ROOMS AND LIBRARIES
Just as every faculty in the University of Ibadan has its library, aside from the Central library of the school, each Hall of residence also has at least, one reading room. The perceived purpose of this is to grant better comfort to students when reading, conducting a research, or preparing for tests or examinations. Just as the Wall was built to prevent the Night Walkers from passing through in the series “Game of Thrones”, it is saddening that numerous staircases link the paths to these reading rooms and most of these libraries, thus, preventing special students from benefiting from certain rights and privileges.
In fact, the case is indeed serious to the extent that a physically challenged final-year student does not know what the reading room in his hall of residence looks like. Mr. Tope Samson, a resident of Bello Hall said, “I can access it but it is very difficult for me to go there, because from my room it is far. Then there are lots of stairs to climb before getting there.”
So it appears that one might try to reach there, but on getting there, he might have been exhausted and found nothing to do but to sleep off. It was gathered that in Queen Elizabeth II Hall, where there is a special floor for the special students, there is a reading room close to the floor but the staircases have become a source of hindrance to using them. In fact, a physically challenged student in Queens Hall briefly puts it that “even the Reading Room itself is not disability-friendly”.
Mr. Idowu, while speaking on the Reading Room in Kuti Hall told the journalist that he has never been to the reading room in his hall. “I have never been there, I cannot even tell where it is because if you count the number of staircases that leads to that place, for someone like me, I don’t even want to give it a trial,” he said.
The issue of library has been a serious challenge for special students in the University of Ibadan. While a ramp is placed at the entrance of the Kenneth Dike Library, it is difficult for a special person to go beyond the ground floor. In some other faculties and departments, the libraries sit on one of the high floors of the building. Surprisingly, the journalist gathered that the library of the department of Special Education is no different from those of other departments. Aside from the dominance of obsolete books, visually impaired student cannot have access to a single brailed material from the library, for there exists none.
An undergraduate student of Special Education said that she used neither the department nor the faculty library. “I don’t use any of the libraries (department and faculty). Special Education Library does not have brailed materials and I don’t think the Faculty has because if the department does not have, is it Faculty that would have?” she asked. Also, while getting information from a Ph.D student in the department, he expressed dissatisfaction at the state of the departmental library.
“The issue of books in special education has been a long term problem. We don’t have books in special education, not even for disabled students. Most of our books that we have there are outdated. Many a times, those of us that are Doctoral students in Special Education, if in need of materials, have to travel down to Oyo,” he lamented.
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