I remember when I posted episode 1 of my "THIS ABILITY" short film series on an international filmmakers Facebook page, the first comment I got was "this is a nonstarter PSA (Public Service Announcement). Who sees a blind person and just assumes that they're beggars?".
To put you on the same page, episode 1 was about a young blind lady asking a guy at a roadside for help, but before the lady could say what kind of help, the guy already assumed that she needed money and was immediately giving her money with reasons why he couldn't give her much, and other things followed. You can check Adonai Studios Facebook page to watch the video.
That episode and all others received and continue to receive the approval of both the disability community and people without disability. The same episode 1 got selection into the maiden edition of the Accra Indie Film Festival, November 2019. It went on, together with episodes two and three (which were the only ones released at the time), to win an international award in South Africa, in December, the same year, organized by the Africa Disability Alliance.
Also worthy of mention was the adoption of same by the United Nations Population Fund, for showing on three TV channels, including the state broadcaster, GTV to mark last year's International Disability Day, on December 3, 2019.
Now back to the "nonstarter PSA" story in the intro. Do you know why an episode that received such an overwhelming endorsement would be described by someone as a nonstarter PSA? It is because, in the country of the commenter, it is abnormal to discriminate or stigmatize a person with disability. In his country, persons with disabilities have been fully accepted into society and enjoy all privileges due every citizen; with infrastructure that are accessible to persons with whatever form of disability. People with disabilities live comfortably and exploit their talents and skills to their full potentials. And so to such a person, the concept made no sense.
But here in Ghana, there have been stories of persons with disability standing by the road waiting for car, and had people throwing money through their car windows to them, obviously assuming that they were beggars. This is simply because, in the average Ghanaian's mind, disability is synonymous with begging. These and many other experiences were what formed the motivation for that episode.
In Ghana, persons with disabilities continue to suffer abuses that demoralize and draw them back in life. And chief among these abuses is discrimination. But here is something you should know: Absolutely nobody would be happy with any condition that deprives them of the priceless gift of sight, hearing, speech, the normal functioning of the brain, hands, legs or any other part of the human body or skin disorders, in the case of albinism, vitiligo and the others. Not to talk of the fact that some of these disabilities come with health conditions that last as long as the disabilities themselves. Then also comes those with multiple disabilities. There's certainly nothing enviable about such situations.
Anybody with a disability who is happy with their lives only mustered the mental fortitude to look beyond their circumstances. They only managed to overcome self-pity, low self-esteem, depression and a host of other inhibitions that could have otherwise made their lives miserable. As a matter of fact, if it was by choice, they would also have chosen to be without disabilities.
Living with a disability alone is enough for a battle, and it is sometimes fought from birth to death. To put it simply, persons with disabilities are WARRIORS.
Shunning with disdain, discouragement, neglect, stereotype, denial of rights and privileges or any other treatment that kills the spirit or causes harm to human dignity is certainly NOT what you offer a person in such a psychological warfare. Any such negative attitude towards persons with disabilities, is by no small means, hitting the last nail in their coffin; for any human being who has cause to lose their self-dignity and pride have lost it all. And any human being who has no reason to feel part of the human race is finished indeed.
The least that is expected of society, therefore, is to aid their victory in this mental battle-be moved by compassion to make life comfortable for them by any means possible. The least society could do is to give persons with disabilities every reason to feel loved as the human beings they are.
It is also imperative that we remind ourselves constantly that disability is not only acquired from birth. Apart from those who are born with their conditions or get them shortly after birth, a great number of others acquire theirs later in life, mostly through accidents, sicknesses or old age.
If we could be conscious of this reality that for as long as we continue to walk the surface of this earth, we are all possible "candidates of disability", we would be mindful of how we treat people with such conditions.
Then parents would not deny their children with disabilities education because they think it would be a waste. Then we would not stigmatize or discriminate against persons with disabilities in our schools, churches, workplaces or anywhere else in society. Then rather than looking at disabilities, we would employ based on qualifications and competencies. Then disability would be missing in the list of things to consider before accepting to marry someone. Then families would not reject possible fiancés or fiancées of their children on the basis of disability.
Then we would all, including Governments, make deliberate efforts to take away the impediments or the things that constitute unfriendly environments in accessing healthcare, transport, education, and employment. Then we would be giving meaning to the purpose of creation. Then anytime we give a person with disability a cause to regret their conditions they had no choice over, we would know that we have killed them emotionally. Then we would acknowledge that discrimination is murder.
By Benjamin Nii-Lartey Ayiku(BNA)
(Disability Rights Advocate)
Email: [email protected]