Disabilities

Dear Elsie,

You will find out in life that all hands are not equal. This statement is true for all humans. You will find some human beings who are way different from you physically. One of the most difficult questions you may ask yourself as a little girl is why are some people different; why can’t some people see, why can they not hear. How is it they have only one leg, why can they not stand on their feet, what is wrong with their other hand; and what did they do to make them the way they are.

Good questions but this letter is not meant to address them. Maybe later. Today, I do not want to dwell on the plight of people with disabilities. I want to tell you about their might despite the difficult fights many of them go through every day. Today, I celebrate those who are working tirelessly to break out of the limitations their inabilities and society have boxed them in.

“Disability is not inability” is a statement I have heard a lot of times. Like many sayings, they lose value over time, especially when there is no testament in that regard. Thankfully, I know a lot of people with disabilities whose lives lend credence to the opening statement of this paragraph.

In the university, I think I was in level 200 then, a blind young man ascended the pulpit in my lecture theatre to aver to us his aspirations of becoming the SRC president of the university. Why am I talking about this young man today when it has been about three years since this event occurred? Well, it is simply because he left a mark. His dream and the courage to profess left me stupefied.

I was impressed and amazed in one breath. I never saw it coming. It was a thought that never obtruded my thinking.  I did not think a day would come when someone who physically handicapped in some regard would want to lead the politics of student affairs. His kind of confidence was not an everyday occurrence. Even though that dream of his did not materialise, my admiration for him has never dwindled. I will dote on his confidence any day.

I saw many people with impairment during studies in the University. For most of them, I could only stare in awe. When I saw the zeal with which they went about their studentship duties on campus, I could not agree more with the saying “Disability is not inability”.

Outside the walls of the University of Ghana, on the streets of Airport City, is a cripple who hawks sweets in traffic. This man no ordinary cripple, he is not even the usual size of an average human being. He looks somewhat compressed. He moves on some flat wooden wheels when he is running his business and you would marvel at his pace of movement if you see him. For this man not to have resorted to begging and making a living the honourable way, he deserves all the spotlight that captures him.

One of the peculiarities of the streets of Accra is that it is littered with beggars. I am sometimes inclined to believe that the number of beggars and actual workers on the streets of Accra are the same. This man could have begged his way through life, because there are people with conditions that are no way near his who have opted for that. But no! He approaches life with the attitude of any honourable hardworking young man- to make a living for himself and by himself.

There is another person whom I feel is worth mentioning here before I end this week’s letter. Some months ago, TV3 news featured a physically challenged woman who was making tremendous change in her community.  She is a trained teacher aside her philanthropic activities.  I am writing about her because what she does is exceptional. There is another thing about her that caught my attention; she writes with her toes. And she could do many other things with it. I bet she does more with her toes than the average able person does with fingers and toes on two hands and two feet.

Now to the reason she was in the news- she liaised with an NGO to bring potable water to her community. I was impressed beyond words. To think that she is married with children and has pupils to teach and can find time to do such good in her community is simply heart-warming. And I daresay that if Ghana had about 10 of her kind, it would be a better place.

Here is the lesson in all these, Elsie. To make life meaningful for yourself and others is an act that requires great strength. And if doing it comes from intrinsic motivation, then the strength must be tripled. You need strength of the mind, body and soul to make a move in that regard. It goes beyond having your physiognomy intact. It needs an uncommon enthusiasm- an enthusiasm of looking beyond needing help and actually giving help.

Physical challenge or impairment may look like an inhibition, a detractor, a destroyer of dreams and a perpetual damnation to live in misery and helplessness. That is why I celebrate all those with any form of disability who are working tirelessly to lives for themselves and others better.

I celebrate their mental strength that makes them look beyond their situation with positivity. I celebrate their physical strength that makes them leap and act in places where able people have become confused bystanders and onlookers. I celebrate them for not reclining and settling for being hauled around because they thought they couldn’t. I celebrate them for not reducing yourselves to basket cases. I celebrate them for not taking the backseat in shaping their own destinies. I celebrate their vision of achieving their dreams of not being liabilities to society and making giant strides in their own ways.

“Disability is not inability” is not only words because we have people like them illustrating it. For lending credence to this statement, KUDOS! They are INSPIRATIONS.

Yours,

Fathiya.

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