DECEMBER 3 OF every year has since 1992 been declared Disability Day by the United Nations, but St Mary’s Rehabilitation and Development Centre, Ipetumodu, Osun State, for convenience’s sake, celebrated persons with disabilities (PWD) on Saturday 2 December.
And “glaringly” missing were politicians and top-ranking officials. “They do not come to this kind of event,” said Dr FunmiAkinyemi, HCA, hinting at the non-committal attitude of government in matters concerning the PWD.
Sr Elizabeth Kehinde, centre co-ordinator, said, “Sometimes people can forget that a person with disability is first and foremost a human being with desires, talents, skills, heartache, and loss, just like everyone else. At the basis of every person are the similarities we all share for being human, and that includes PWD.”
Leaving no one behind in the “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all,” Miss Folawemi Akinseli, a post-graduate candidate of Department of Adult Education and Life-long Learning, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, said that “growing up was hell and heaven ... it is still difficult with the others who are ever ready to remind me of my disability, it is difficult to live in an environment that expects so little of people with disabilities.”
The guest speaker demanded a change in perspective in order to free the disabled from previously held beliefs, attitudes, values, and feelings that have constricted and distorted their lives.
Folawemi, who suffered from polio between age one and two years, said, “Perspective transformation is the process of becoming critically aware of how and why our presuppositions have come to constrain the way we perceive, understand, and feel about our world, of reformulating these assumptions ... and of making decisions or otherwise acting on these new understandings.”
Dr (Mrs) Bolanle Kafi of Social Welfare, Osogbo said, “Everybody should be involved in this matter. It is not government alone, not NGO alone; it is the duty of everybody. We have to contribute (to their welfare). We should show them love, appreciate them in the society and the community. We should assist them, not ignore them in this humanitarian work. Whatever we have, let us use it to appreciate these people; they are not criminals.”
Dr Kafi said that government was doing its best and we should join government, even St Mary’s, to develop these “God’s gifts.”
Sr Mary Adebayo said, “We have to sensitise people, as a lot of disabilities happen before childbirth and out of ignorance of a woman or the husband, especially the husband.
Sr Mary therefore called for public awareness on how to avoid acts capable of resulting in disabilities during pregnancy. “People should be cautious of what they do during pregnancy so that disabilities can be minimised in our society. Disability is not inability,” she said.
Mr Tolu Olawuni, who wears the shoe and knows where it pinches, said “Whatever you choose to believe is whom you are.” Mr Olawuni thus narrated a situation in which somebody tried to force money into his hand out of pity for him. “I twisted my hand and the money fell off and the person understood the message that I was not a beggar.”
“It’s all about body language,” he said, “people who cannot study very well, who find things difficult to grasp are also disabled like people with special needs. You don’t have to be blind, dumb, deaf, mentally retarded before people can say you are living with disability.”
He recalled how his brothers tried to cover-up his blind status, but “I refused and made my disability public.”
He often heard his father say, “You this boy, with your condition, you are climbing trees!” What he did not know was that his blind son was preparing himself for the future.
Mrs Olatoye Taiwo, on her part, advised parents against hiding their children at home; rather, they should seek public help. She, however, cautioned parents on the type of hospitals they take their children to because wrong medication can severely affect children and destroy their future plans.
If trust in government is waning, Mr Kehinde Onitiju put the blame on co-disabled for selling some equipment the Osun State Government gave them in order to empower themselves. In June 2013, the state government employed about 30 persons with disabilities into various ministries and parastatals and also included the physically challenged in his cabinet and they worked with Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, governor, from 2012 to 2014, to look into the affairs of PWD.
Mr Onitiju recalled how the government rebuilt a school fence after a rape incidence. He did not stop there, he said that the governor gave them N15 million yearly (2012 & 2013) to run the affairs of PWD.
Calling for a change of attitude towards the physically challenged, Mr Onitiju urged the physically disabled to dress properly so that they are not demeaned because “the way you present yourself to the society matters.”
Mr Onitiju’s problem started when he was one-and-a-half years old and his father advised “my mother to take me to the hospital and abandon me there but my mother refused. I was the last of her 11 children. Of the surviving five, I am now the bread winner.”
His advice to parents: “Take care of the persons with disabilities so that you will not suffer in your old age.”