There are an estimated 24 million disabled people in Nigeria. As is the case in many other developing and emerging economies, Nigeria sees investment in services for the disabled as a luxury. Streets, public buildings and public transportation systems lack accessibility facilities.
Affordable and sustainable mobility aids are rare. In the few Government rehabilitation centers training programs provide little access to job opportunities. As a result, people with disabilities suffer from social and economic exclusion, making them dependent on their families. But if there is no family to help, the disabled often are forced to become street beggars.
The Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Centre (MAARDEC) emerged from Cosmas Okoli’s quest to find solutions to the challenges faced by millions of people with disabilities in Nigeria, himself included. MAARDEC’s vision is to ensure that Nigerians with disabilities acquire efficient and sustainable mobility aids and appliances, with 4,000 of them employed and another 200 in elected or appointed public sector positions. About half of the MAARDEC staff has disabilities.
The centre offers counselling and guidance for the disabled and promotes public education on the abilities of disabled persons. MAARDEC founded the Association for Comprehensive Empowerment of Nigerians with Disabilities (ASCEND), a leading advocacy group for persons with disabilities. Okoli also founded the Nigerian chapter of the Achilles Track Club, which encourages persons with disabilities to run for recreation alongside the non-disabled and volunteers. MAARDEC initiated the first ever Ms. Wheelchair Nigeria pageant in 2010, providing a platform to
celebrate accomplished women with disabilities and equip them to serve as advocates for all Nigerians with disabilities.
MAARDEC has partnered with the MTN Foundation to provide over 15,000 mobility aids to persons with disabilities in Nigeria since 2009. MAARDEC is also in partnership with Contact Solutions Limited to provide qualified persons with disabilities employment as customer service representatives. It also forged a partnership with Conversion Sound to assemble and market digital hearing aids in Nigeria, making them affordable and providing employment for persons with disabilities. Other aids being developed by MAARDEC include a more effective leg brace and specially-designed hand controls that allow those who have lost the use of their legs to drive.