DISABLED, NOT NEGLIGIBLE…


Chisom Ezeokoye's articles for the Project Enable Media Hackathon Entries describe the marginalization and discrimination the Person with Disabilities faces in the society and the emphasis on the need for inclusiveness.

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“…and that’s why we need to work with our partners in Turkey to get the goods at a cheaper rate. It would give us a monopoly over that part of the market, as it would be some years before other companies would be able to gain their trust, as we have, to benefit from this opportunity,” she told her boss.

He was impressed. She could see it.

“That’s great, Christabel.  A representative of our Chinese partners is here. I’d like you to talk to him; make sure we’re getting all we’re entitled to,” he said with a wink.

“Of course, sir,” she laughed. “It’s what I do.” With a lingering smile, she gathered her documents, and placing them on her legs, she wheeled herself out of his office.

Wheeled? Yes, wheeled. You got that right. Wheeled. As in a wheelchair.

Five minutes after she had gotten into her office and settled behind her desk, she heard a knock on the door.

“Come in,” she hollered.

The young man in his late twenties who walked into my office looked smart in a three-piece suit. She could see he had gone to great lengths to create a good first impression, and she gave him her you-can-relax-but-I’m-still-in-charge smile to put him at ease a little. She offered him a handshake, and as he leaned forward over the desk to return it, she could smell a hint of Burberry. It was heady and alluring.

Okay. First we take care of the business. Then we see what these butterflies in my belly have to say about Mr fine suit here.

She was able to broker a deal earning them 25% more profit than what her boss had envisaged. And she had a date for Friday night. Work hard, play hard, sweetie!

***

According to an assessment by the World Health Organisation in 2018, 29 million Nigerians are living with a disability. We both know that these alarming numbers are most likely smaller than what it actually is at the moment. Despite this large percentage of disabled persons, attitudinal barriers cause the quality of their lives to be at the barest minimum. Policies that even remotely consider disability are inadequately implemented or totally neglected.

Did it surprise you to read about a young lady in a wheelchair in an office, talking about international business deals? But why should it? Why should people be excluded from career growth, health benefits, access to common social amenities, just because they have some sort of disability? The amount of stigma and trampling of fundamental human rights that follows a person with disability is enough to send them over the edge. Take a moment and picture the last time you came across a person with difficulty in seeing, hearing, walking, communication, learning, or self-care. If you have at least half a heart, the immediate reflex would be to feel sorry for the person, right? But sometimes, even ‘feeling sorry’ is part of the problem. 

Picture this: when you throw a birthday party for your child, does your mind go to that child two houses away, with a crooked arm and no control over the spittle dripping from her mouth? When a class of young people is being shared into groups for a group assignment of some sort, do you want to be in the same group with the young lady or young man who is blind, or has a limp, or uses a wheelchair? You feel sorry for them, don’t you? But you would not touch them with a ten-foot pole! These people are not abandoned wild puppies, they are human beings. Human beings with the same dreams and aspirations as you. Their disability does not make their life goals less important than yours. Believe me when I say that these people did not plan to be disabled, but life dealt them a hard one. Why does our society make it harder? 

The saddest part is that at least half the time, those who are supposed to take care of these vulnerable ones are the ones who perpetrate these acts against them. A working mother employs a private tutor to help her ten-year-old child with speech problems. The vile person, knowing the little one cannot express himself/herself verbally, begins to touch them inappropriately. A housekeeper is employed to help look after little children affected by polio, and when the parents have gone to work, he/she resorts to hitting them when they do not move fast enough for their liking. It is enough to bring anyone with a heart to tears. It does not have to be this way.

 On the 23rd of January, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari, after much deliberation, signed the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act into law. Long story short, the law says that discriminating against a person because they have a disability could earn you a fine or a jail sentence. It also says that public buildings and vehicles should be modified to make them easily usable for disabled persons. A National Commission for Persons with Disabilities will also be established, according to the Act; and it will be responsible for prosecuting offenses against disabled persons, and supporting persons with disabilities. More and more schools are starting to accept the reality that some children are not actually possessed by demons, they have difficulty learning, and they only require patient, loving teachers. Do you know Keanu Reeves? John Wick? Yes, darling, one and the same. He lives with dyslexia. Cobhams Asuquo was born blind. But if you have never heard (and fallen in love with) his soulful voice, I doubt you are really a Nigerian. He is also a songwriter and music producer. Yinka Ayefele needs no introduction. These people made a name for themselves, in spite of their disability.

Stop discrimination against disabled people, dearies. Not just because you can go to jail for it, but because we are all human. With the same dark red blood coursing through our veins. They are disabled, not negligible. We can make a better world. All you need to do is take a stand.

To build a nation where peace and justice reign.

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