Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. And a special welcome home to Nigeria’s Paralympic athletes, some of whom have taken the time to join us today. We are in the presence of some of Nigeria’s most powerful people. And with all due respect to Dr. Ankeli, I am not referring to political power. [NOTE: all the athletes present were powerlifters, including medalists. END NOTE]
It gives me great pleasure to join the Senior Special Assistant to the President, Dr. Samuel Ankeli, and the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD), in congratulating these athletes on their accomplishments in Rio over the past several weeks. Whether a Paralympian or an Olympian, simply qualifying for the Games is already an accomplishment – it marks you as one of the top athletes in your country. Bringing home medals is the icing on the cake, and you have done very well in that regard this year.
Americans are very proud of our Paralympic and Olympic athletes, and I know Nigerians are very proud of your Paralympic and Olympic athletes.
These athletic achievements demonstrate a lesson Americans learned through the process of advocating for and implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): that the challenges faced by persons with disabilities are exacerbated by social barriers and prejudice, which impose undeserved inferior social and economic status on the disabled.
In 2015 Americans celebrated the 25th anniversary of the passage of the ADA in 1990, and I am sure some of you in the room today attended the Embassy’s celebration last December.
At that celebration, then-Ambassador Entwistle reminded all of us that the struggle to pass the ADA began 15 to 20 years before 1990. He recounted the story of a paralyzed Vietnam War veteran who testified before Congress in 1989 that when he got home from the war in his wheelchair, he found that he couldn’t get in and out of his housing project. He couldn’t get on or off the bus because of a lack of proper access, and he couldn’t find work because of discrimination among employers. He said it was then that he realized he had fought for everyone in America but himself – and he vowed to fight tirelessly for passage of the ADA.
I am sure the Nigerian Paralympians who are here with us today have similar stories to share. In Rio, you threw farther and lifted more weight than your competitors, demonstrating the Paralympic motto “Spirit in Motion.” And yet upon your return to Nigeria, you have likely found obstacles to your physical motion, whether that be where you live, or where you train, or where you work.
And you are just the tip of the iceberg. The World Health Organization estimates that there are about 25 million persons living with disabilities in Nigeria, which represents about 15 percent of this nation’s population. Twenty five million is a number larger than the entire population in more than 100 countries in the world. Imagine the social and economic benefits of empowering these millions of Nigerians to be fully integrated into their communities. This is a dream that I am sure all of us share.
I wish all the best to Nigeria’s Paralympians and to all Nigerians as you struggle to increase protections for the rights of persons with disabilities, in order to open gateways to a future in which all the doors are open to equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, integration, and self-sufficiency for persons with disabilities. Perhaps the American experience with the ADA can hold valuable lessons for Nigeria.
In closing, to Abdulaziz, Tijani, Innocent, Nwosu, Rolland, Precious, and your coaches Patience and Luke, congratulations again to all of you and your fellow athletes on your impressive achievements. Well done!