Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and love irrespective of where he or she is coming from or how different the person may seem to look as a result of one form of disability or another. We all come from different backgrounds and everyone deserves to be cared for and appreciated irrespective of the color of their skins, size of their heads, and the way they may look; as a matter of fact, no condition justifies any act of disdain meted out on an individual.
Disability is not an inability and the right attitude in disability goes a long way not just to the disabled, but also to the abled. According to World Health Organization (WHO, 2020) “Disability is the outcome of the interaction of a person’s functional status and his/ her environment". A person is classified as disabled as a result of barriers erected by the environment, which in turn limits their participation in the social and economic life of their communities. As of 2020, it has been reported by Macdonell et al (2016) that about a 27million Nigerians live with some form of disability. The four most common types of disabilities in Nigeria are people with visual impairment, hearing impairment, intellectual impairment, and physical impairment.
At certain stages of life, some people transcend to disability against their will, brought on by different disability causing circumstances such as poverty and malnutrition, war, nuclear accidents, illness, medicines and inappropriate administration of harmful injections, dangerous work conditions, and accidents.
Attitude is very important in life because it either helps you succeed or destroys you. It is an essential quality to thriving far and is needed by everyone. The right attitude even when going through a certain form of disability, goes a long way to help the individual reach certain goals and surmount every form of challenge that comes around. We all need each other to succeed as and the saying goes ‘we rise by lifting each other.
The world has shown us examples of great people who did not let their disability hinder them from achieving their goals but rather, have chosen to see it as an opportunity to impact the lives of others. These great people include the likes of -' Nick Vujicic', a young man who lost his arms and limbs at a tender age but had the right attitude that spurred him on to become a great global motivational speaker of repute; Cobhams Asuquo (a talented music producer) and Tony Tetuila an artist and songwriter who believes a man’s beginning does not necessarily determine his future just to mention a few.
Over 15% of the world’s population experience one form of disability or the other, which tends to make them face adverse socio-economic hardship such as poor education, poor health outcomes, low level of employment, and higher poverty rate. These in turn make them inadequate to face life's challenges and also inhibit them from living a normal independent life. It has also been observed that disability is responsible for the high rate of poverty which when not properly taken care of can metamorphose into chronic poverty which contributes to the vulnerability faced by the disabled in society.
As a person living with a disability (physically challenged; upper right limb and left leg), I have had my fair share of such challenges which started early during my childhood. I realized that people did not necessarily know how to treat persons living with disabilities especially if such a person needed assistance to walk. A lot of them showed sympathy even when it was not necessary which made me feel vulnerable and also reduced my self-worth. I grew to be withdrawn and shy, but as I became much older, I developed the right attitude which made me stronger. I am grateful to God who used my Mother immensely to make me believe in myself, develop a superiority complex, high hopes, exposures, self-discovery, and mental/personal independence so much that I could wash, cook, drive and do so much more without waiting to be assisted.
I went through some difficult challenges during my university days. I had to change my first university because I was humiliated and embarrassed by the chancellor every time we encountered each other. He was shocked to see me undertaking certain responsibilities as a student and looked down on me; he made me feel dejected, creating an impression that I should not have been qualified to be in the university in the first place. It became a matter of the way I looked rather than my intellectual capabilities. His direct words to me were “Girl you are not meant to be here, you had better go to where disabled people like you are”. This was the most embarrassing day of my life; he not only said those words to me in front of every student present -as he spoke fiercely- but he killed my self-esteem. I was down-cast, so much, that I did not hesitate to leave the university to a different Federal University where I graduated with second class upper division in Biochemistry.
As time went on, I had difficulties in securing a befitting job due to my disability. In fact, I remember an interview I went for; I had passed all the tests which got me to the final stage, as the interviewer set his eyes on me, he expressed it clearly to me that I could not do the job because it was a marketing job. I got a lot of discouragements, that at a point, I became depressed. My gratitude continues to go to my family members for all the support, love, and prayers. I went ahead and bagged a master's degree from Glasgow Caledonian University in the United Kingdom. I returned to Nigeria and continued to experience a lack of employment. I never relented as I kept my focus with the right attitude strongly spurring me on. I joined some professional associations and learned some new skills. As I write this, I am working in a multinational company to the glory of God.
Based on my experiences, I have learned a lot about the barriers the disabled face in our different communities which are:
- Attitudinal (stereotyping): This is a situation where people assume that persons with disabilities are unhealthy because of their impairment and that their quality of life is poor. This generates stigma, prejudice, and discrimination where they see themselves and their condition as tragic, or as someone to be cured or prevented. They go as far as saying that disability is a punishment for a wrong done in the past. The lack of awareness, enforcement of the ' right laws' also makes it difficult.
- physical barriers are not excluded because many buildings erected in the environment are not inclusive of facilities that enable disabled people to move freely or engage in an active lifestyle.
- The transportation sector plays a role in limiting movement for persons with disabilities as the structure of the vehicle is inconvenient for boarding.
- Also, they suffer from unemployment which automatically makes them look inferior, so much that, they are less employed as well as less likely to be admitted into Primary or Secondary School. On the other hand, those who eventually get admitted are victims of bully and violence by senior students and hostile members of staff.
- In terms of income, disabled persons tend to earn less than others who are not impaired in any form.
- Another is the health factor which segregates the disabled from accessing medical facilities due to movement difficulty. This in turn leads to a deterioration in health and extreme cases, health hazards such as obesity, arthritis, osteoporosis, and others. There is also, lack of medical attention and designated medical equipment or control measures for persons living with disabilities.
Considering all the barriers and challenges persons living with disabilities face, every individual has a role to play to curb the pains and challenges as well. The Federal Government should take it as a social responsibility to ensure that the right facilities are in place to aid persons living with disabilities and enhance their lifestyles in every community.
An awareness scheme should also be done periodically where people are educated on how to treat disabled people. A penalty should be enforced by the government as a warning to others in cases where such education goals are violated in the bid to eradicate every form of prejudice, stratification, stereotype, and discrimination.
It is important to note that the first source of support is from the family. Therefore, related families should be informed to show support and encouragement especially parents, for a productive life.
Health practitioners are not excluded as the onus is on them to keep sensitizing the public through schemes that focus on educating persons with disabilities, showing them how to live a healthy life to reduce any further health complications which may be suffered by the disabled.
In addition, health personnel must strive to keep up with consistent sensitization through the media for persons with disabilities, so that they know; the right nutritional supplements to take for the effective boosting of their calcium levels for healthy bones; the right food to eat to avoid malnutrition; the need to avoid smoking; perform the right exercises and other general health benefits, which would go a long way to keeping them fit to pursue their goals and achieving them.
Everyone loves to be independent and not to be a burden to anyone, it’s important we note that the right attitude towards persons with disability would enable him/her live a fulfilled life, one in which they can impact not just society but also the economy and the growth of the nation. No one should be made to feel less of himself/ herself.
Having a disability is never the end of the world or a limitation to achievements that can be made. We all need the right attitude and the right push to soar high. If we can work together, support each other, and not look down on the capabilities of the disabled, we can add value to making this nation a better place for you and me.