What Exactly Is Disability Awareness?

Opinion

The theme of the 2011 International Day of persons with disabilities is Together for a better world for all: including persons with disabilities in development.

This theme emphasises inclusion of all as a prerequisite for true development.

In previous years, the celebration has been observed half-heartedly all over the country as state ministries of Social Development and/or Women Affairs only responded to the directive from the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development. This manifest in differing dates and event plans that, more often than not, portray a benign government remembering to give a free meal to citizens living with disabilities this once in a year. This is quite unfortunate as it shoots wide off the mark, concerning the purpose of the United Nations organisation setting this day aside.

The intention of its being set aside is to illustrate the possibility of persons living with disabilities being included in their societies as equally contributing citizens rather than an inferior breed of charity cases.

Programmes for the day should be organised in conjunction with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) so as to foster the position  of “nothing about us without us,” wisely adopted to guide the attitude of others to PWDs.

Another face to the celebration is the concentration on media appearances by government agencies, DPOs and other service providers to PWDs. This is, in itself, a good project but also shoots slightly off target as PWDs still appear as an alien race well packaged by the government and their cosy NGOs, mysteriously residing on a planet that can only be reached on television, radio and the pages of newspapers.

Unfortunately, PWDs are twice as guilty as everyone else in perpetuating and promoting this posture. We attend schools, churches, mosques, clubs, workplaces and other points of direct contact with our non-disabled cohabitants of the community.

The media should not be our only means of reaching our friends, colleagues, relatives, oppressors and well-wishers, but only one means among others. Talks in churches, mosques, at the offices and other such public places will create a one-on-one atmosphere that tells everyone that “I am a person living with a disabling condition but I am still a brother/sister, boss/subordinate, co-student, fellow worshipper, club member, co-athlete, passenger/driver, friend/enemy, etc., to every other person in the society and I reside on the same block with you, work in the same office, ride the same transport, study in the same classroom, buy/sell in the same market, beaten by the same rain and sun, eat the same food and travel on the same roads as everyone else.” Disability poses its limitations but life gives its own capabilities so that whereas I need some help to do some things others can do independently, I am very capable of rendering services that no one else can render better. It is not about my being disabled but about my being a person, existing, breathing and willing to contribute my quota towards living in a better world.

If we’ve never been told this before, the theme of this year’s International Day for Persons Living with Disabilities (IDD) is the clarion call; let us obey now!

•Opeolu  Akinola, a blind computer engineer, lives in Lagos