An All Inclusive Society For People With Disabilities: Empathy Not Sympathy!

Soul searching: Is there a family in this world without a history of or a family member living with disability; known to be free of one form of disability or the other, going through the family tree and starting from the beginning of life to the end of life of every single member in a whole family generation? If NONE ever existed then why the discrimination against people with disabilities (PWDs)! The definition of a person with disabilities differs from place to place; what others might consider a disability is NOT to others according to the laws, cultures, tribes, religions and states in Nigeria. However, disability is known worldwide as a person who has a physical, mental, or emotional condition seen or unseen, known or unknown to others; such conditions can hinder the person with disability from living a functional life socially, culturally or religiously which is to others considered a “normal” way of living a healthy, happy and successful life. The most common types of disabilities in Nigeria are visual, hearing, physical, intellectual and communication impairment. It could be caused by preventable diseases, congenital malformations, birth-related incidents, physical injury and psychological dysfunction which can happen to ANYONE. It is an obvious fact that most disability that are related to learning, mental health, chronic pain, dementia, anxiety and depression are invisible to others, unfortunately people living with such disabilities simply “hide” their challenges due to stigma and discrimination. Life is ever changing, anything can happen at anytime due to an individual’s making or caused by unforeseen circumstances; any persons that is human, alive will temporarily or permanently experience disability at a point in life, either from birth or along the journey of life.

The north-east in northern Nigeria has the highest number of people with disabilities; increasing by the day due to the insurgency bedeviling the region for over a decade now, lack of medical facilities and quick intervention is another contributing factor, insecurity crisis rocking the nation as a whole is adding to the numbers of people with disabilities, accidents and recklessness of Nigerians are making matters worse by the second, exponentially increasing the numbers of people with disabilities in Nigeria. In Nigeria a person with disabilities are named and shamed, called with terms pointing to the specific disabling condition, often times sarcastically insulting and demeaning; igniting helpless and hapless feelings in them such as calling a visually impaired person “Makaho” meaning a blind person in Hausa, “Afoju” in Yoruba and “Onye kpuru isi or kpuru isi” in Igbo.
Most often than not people with disabilities are discriminated upon in all aspect of the day to day living due to inefficient implementation of policies, corruption, social and cultural biases; much more at a disadvantage to experience homelessness, live in poverty and despondency or become an outcast. The language and tone of voice used to refer to people with disabilities has significantly encourage stigma and stereotypes, with the use of terms such as “crippled” known as “guragu or gurgu” in Hausa; while people with deformities caused by leprosy disease are called “Kutarai or kuturu” in Hausa, the mentally retarded are bullied, jeered at, abused, stoned, chased away, hated and called “mai hauka” or “mahaukaci” in Hausa, while for the physically challenged they are called “Wheelchair-bound”. The society MUST reflect positive changes towards people with disabilities through enacting an all inclusive laws because stigma and stereotyping are the disabilities residing within a given society NOT in the differently able person.

In Nigeria, families of people with disabilities treat them as a burden, a secret shame to be hidden away from their “social cycle” and going as far as to institutionalizing them in special homes, hospitals and rehab-centers, whilst the rich and influential families that are so desperate in protecting their “public image” and “impeccable family name” in fear of being stigmatized go the extra mile by abandoning such a family member, leaving them at the mercy of the society and government welfare workers, consequently forcing such a family member into begging in order to survive; homeless and sleeping on the streets, sidewalks, or the garbage dumps, with their lives at risk and most often falling easy preys for the wicked and ritualistic people in the society to use for juju charms. The mentally retarded women are a targets for the “get rich quick” with a superstitious belief that to become rich, famous and influential one must use juju charms to sleep with the “mad” homeless women, who are deceived and lured into the beds of such greedy, heartless and gullible men, the reasons why many of the mentally retarded women are with fatherless babies in Nigeria, at times forced during labor to deliver their babies in the full glare of passersby watching from a “safe” distance; all alone and on the streets with no food, warm clothing, medical care and a compassionate hand and heart to assist them during deliveries due to fear of being attacked by them in an effort to protect the life of the new born.

The people with disabilities are viewed and portrayed in the society as a pathetic and pitiable lots, sinister, evil, a lifetime burden, aggressive, laughable, unlovable, outcast, tragic but brave in facing situations.
The society view people with disabilities as an individually personal tragedy that is only deserving the pity of the “Normal” people within the society; seen as a lifelong burden of an unending liability for the “able people” that are forced by family ties, society or obligated to “assist” and cater for as long as they live. The population of the people with disabilities in northern Nigeria is ever increasing by the day due to a decade or more of insurgency, poverty, lack of medical intervention and illiteracy. The people with disabilities and their families are seen as the best deserving “human” objects for charity by inspiring benevolence in others to render assistance, and also awakening the feelings of deep pity which leads to kindness and generosity from the “able” people. There is ability in disability, if given the same opportunity and the accessibility needed within the community in which they live; people with disabilities will have great chance of living a beautiful and happy life. People with disabilities can handle any responsibilities just like the others such as family, good job and any responsibilities assigned to them because they are a “Differently Able People” that are NOT so different from the “normal” people, if the focus is not on their impairment but rather on their capabilities and abilities not on their limitations.
The people with disabilities in the north east Nigeria are the hardest hit by the impacts of the insurgency, facing devastating life challenges such as stigmatization, discrimination and total exclusion with the harsh realities of high economic standard of living due to high cost of basic daily necessities with no purchasing powers, little support from family, friends and charities from care givers.

It is absolutely motivating to accept people with disabilities just as the others with emotions, feelings, desires, wishes, aspirations and pains, not to be considered as people with an everlasting agony in their “abnormality” that must be fixed, corrected or cured in order to belong and blend into the “normal” peoples cycles.
The people with disabilities on wheelchair is just a form of mobility that aids the “differently able people” independence, ease their capabilities in doing things on their own without completely relying on the others all the time; they are not “confined” to the wheelchair.

The people with disabilities are always under pressure to show their capabilities, stressed to always wear a happy face, joyfully accepting of their condition irrespective of their emotions; forced by the society to always exhibit amazing virtues to prove how courageous and strong they can be despite their predicaments whilst the “normal” tag them superheroes. They are to most charities an object put forward to generate and raise funds with claims for their care. People with disabilities are often associated with ill omen, a curse placed on them inspiring fear in others that they must be avoided, seen as people under the spell of witchcrafts, possessed by jinn and evil spirits who are considered a menace to their families, friends and the society. Mental disability if not well managed with tender loving care, kindness and compassion can easily at the slightest provocation leads to anger, hatred and rage inflicting violence upon others. The few amongst many societal perceptions that hinders people with disabilities from productive participation in the processes of community development, leading to segregation and isolation.

Challenges Of People With Disabilities In North-East Nigeria:
The challenges of the people with disabilities in Nigeria are many in situations when work, politics and education exclude them. People with disabilities in northern Nigeria are faced with several challenges such as difficulty in accessing public buildings, high unemployment, hostile treatments and negative attitudes from the “able” people, poor provisions of education, health services, and political participation which leads to the exclusion of people with disabilities from active community life and decision making.
The lack of medical facilities, services, and scarcity of doctors are often responsible for late detection of disabilities until it becomes irreversible due to lack of infrastructures in accessing the poor and vulnerable living in rural and remote communities. Drugs are lacking, specialized doctors are scarce for the leprosy hospitals at Molai in Maiduguri, Borno state. The insecurity compounded the many problems of the hospital, consequently more and more people with leprosy diseases faced a permanent deformity.
The people with disabilities in Borno state Nigeria lack equal opportunities and sponsorship for education due to speed of learning and the expensive tools for learning in schools; skill acquisition centers are not available due to financial constraints, lack of specialized training tools.
Mobility and accessibility are hurdles that are insurmountable because there are no provision for people with disabilities to lead and live a stress-free life; leading to psychological trauma due to segregation from other members of the community.

Social protection measures which includes poverty reduction schemes will help in reducing dependence, level of poverty and the financial vulnerability amongst the people with disabilities, which will significantly eradicate begging on the streets, offices, markets places and major roads in northern Nigeria; assisting also to aid in providing an adequate standard of living to make ends meet. Social protection schemes will aid in promoting independence and inclusion of people with disabilities by solving their important needs and to support their social participation without any discrimination. The challenges faced by people with disabilities are many; there is the need for a social scheme that will target their most basic needs like active participation in education, access to health care and employment for an all inclusive role within their communities. All these will help to promote an active citizenship, social inclusion and an active community participation in order to limit dependence by the people with disabilities.

Abilities And Disabilities:
It is vital to change the public perceptions of people with disabilities by helping to fight the stigma, which must begin from the families of people with disabilities. They must be given an enabling environment to strive and thrive in their uniqueness in helping to add value to the society they lived in. The people with disabilities are a differently abled segment of the community; they must be given the opportunities to work and fulfill their life ambitions through job creation and employment that is accommodating of their uniqueness. An increase access and protection in order to uphold the rights of people with disabilities through enacting disability laws to safeguard their rights.
The people with disabilities are also important to the development and progress of any given society; they matter and their votes counts. Political offices must be created for them to hold their own in pushing forward all activities connected to them and others; barriers encountered at the polling places must be eradicated, all voting machines and methods of use must be accessible to them.
The society must fix the environmental barriers and inaccessible social amenities, such as inaccessible public transportations, staircases, walkways in public buildings, malls, markets and hospitals which most often obstruct and make it so difficult for people with disabilities to gain employments and seek health care.

An autistic child with an intellectual disability having a different learning speed and speech problems might have difficulties going to an all inclusive school due to the attitudes of teachers, other students and their parents towards such students. It is a way forward to discourage isolation and segregation; there is the need to promote social inclusion in schools. The special needs kids and students coming together in an all inclusive schools and classroom is necessary in order to encourage a side-by-side learning, for both the abled and differently abled for all to appreciate each others unique talents, and natural gifts which will go a long way in promoting the inclusion of individual differences at the learning stage that will lead to better understanding, interaction and an acceptable attitude towards people with disabilities.

The visible differences are not to be allowed to grow, to create obstacles and barriers for a beautiful relationships. It is best to always see and seek qualities of similarities than the differences; the abled and the differently abled have in them the same strengths and weaknesses, interest, wishes, desires and life goals when the abled overlooks the differences in physical attributes for acceptance and inclusion. It is important to not see the people with disabilities with the lens of pity and sympathy but with the heart of kindness and empathy for an honest and true relationship.
The people with disabilities are part and parcel of a complete society; a lot of developmental gains awaits any society that is willing to include and integrate people with disabilities into its very fabrics and take along all its people in every aspect of its political, social, economic and cultural life. Disabilities knows no race, age, gender or status; it is the responsibility of everyone to build an all inclusive society in order to make the world more accepting and loving of people with disabilities.

Health Tips For People With Disabilities:
Disability is a disconnection from “normal” every day activities which could be temporary or permanent. An accident victim with multiple fractures that had a fast medical response is likely not to have any visible deformity because he/she was fortunate to be well-treated by the best doctors, with the right drugs at the right time because of the following reasons; financial status, location and medical facility. The same can never be said for the same accident victim living in a remote village in the north-east Nigeria with crisis rocking the region leaving destruction of medical facilities on its trails, maiming abled bodied young men and turning them into people with disabilities over night. A lot of the helpless and hapless victims had no chance at all of having the best medical intervention when it matters most; both victim had a deciding moment of disconnection and one was fortunate not to have any form of disability because the temporary disability was handled perfectly, the second victim was maimed and scar for life because of his challenging and unfortunate life circumstances due to insecurity and poverty.
Disability health related challenges can be treated or manage effectively such as the risk for certain illnesses, accident, pain, depression, anxiety or dementia. It is important for people with disabilities to maintain their mental and physical well-being at all times to prevent serious health complications that could disrupt or mar a life. Adopting a healthy lifestyle choices is key to maintaining good health, and happy long life.
It is important to engage in physical activities which is highly beneficial for the daily health status of people with disabilities, in increasing the functions of the heart and lungs, helps in decreasing the development of chronic diseases, benefits mental health for an improved daily independent activities. It is advised for people with disabilities to always engage in any form of physical activity that is within their abilities; it is healthily of benefits than living a life of inactivity.
It is necessary for flexibility to maintain good postures at all times while sitting down by keeping feet, knees, hips and shoulders in a straight life; stretching helps to maintain and keep joints flexible for easy mobility especially for wheelchair users. Yoga is mentally and physically soothing by helping to relax all sore muscles.
Mental health is physical health, anxiety and depression can be treated easily with counselling and medication. Eating healthily and adapting to a healthy lifestyle is advised by eating low calorie foods, fruits and raw vegetables which helps to cut down the overall calorie intakes and increases nutrients. Limit sodas and sugary beverages, drinking lots of water is hydrating and low-fat milk is great for its calcium that aids stronger bones. Avoid tobacco and cigarette smoking, moderate intake of alcoholic drinks are advised because it is depressing and causes more harm than good; substance abuse MUST be avoided.
Hygiene care is absolutely vital for keeping diseases and infections at bay; simple hand washing with soap and clean water is important.
Adequate rest and sleep is advised; comfortable beddings, and deep breathing exercises before bedtime helps.
Regular medical checkups is necessary in order to pick out on time hidden health issues; never live in isolation always stay in touch with families and friends.
People with disabilities can live and lead a happy, healthy, productive and long life with the assistance of supportive families and friends, access to health care and daily physical activities.

Empathy Not Sympathy:
Empathy is the ability to understand feelings, thoughts, emotions and reasons behind their behavior, to personally relate to what they are experiencing, by putting on their “shoes” in understanding the shortcomings and challenges of people with disabilities. Feel the pains of people with disabilities; Be the voice for the differently abled people by joining and helping them to live an inclusive life that is free of stigma and discrimination. Empathy encourages and support all their abilities despite their disabilities; while sympathy only discourages and pushes them into isolation.
Sympathy is the show of pity for people with disabilities which dramatically emphasizes the “lack” and “limitation” in their life. The show of sympathy towards their challenges and circumstances simply showcases the “sorry” and “sorrow” for their sufferings; avoid showing pity or patronizing behavior, it is demeaning, discouraging and offensive. STOP the STEREOTYPE, STOP the STIGMA it only make them helpless and hapless; avoid all types of discriminations towards people with disabilities, they are differently abled with unique skills, amazing intellects, and talents, with great experiences that add awesome diversity, resourcefulness and beautiful creative energy to any society.
The people with disabilities are also “beautiful people” and must be treated as such, deserving to be treated with dignity and respect in choice of language and behavioral attitudes. Treat them as you would LOVE to be treated in your speech, and deeds; remember that they are human beautifully and uniquely blessed.

Embrace Empathy
Stop Sympathy
Fight back the tears and join the fight
Tear down the walls between the able and disable in the community.

Disability is a human condition not a FLAW and not an imperfection; every disability is connected to the consequences of diseases and health challenges, no one, absolutely NO ONE is immune from facing it. Disabilities is NOT about IMPERFECTION because NO ONE is PERFECT!