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Opinions of Wednesday, 5 November 2003

Columnist: Akaba, Senyo

Street Dreams

Life is said by many not to be fair. This statement is backed by their claims that humans were not created equal. Some are born tall others short. Some are born into rich families others into non existent families. Some are also born with all the physical structures of the human body whilst others are born physically challenged. In whatever form man is born, he owes it a duty to himself to set goals, dream and work at getting his goals and achieving his dreams. The tall have dreams and the short do. So does the disabled in society set for themselves goals too. One wonders what runs through the minds of those affected by disabilities if their dreams do not get fulfilled.

As Marian Wright Edelman rightly said; “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make”. Most people think a small help to a disabled person is not worth it. The time has now come for governments, NGOs, philanthropists as well as society to ensure that the dreams and aspirations of the physically challenged do not end on the streets.

A trip round many cities in Ghana mirrors the fate of the disabled. These unfortunate people who need the care and attention of their families as well as society are rather ignored and allowed to dwell on the streets at the mercy of the weather and all the uncomplimentary elements on the streets. The most unfortunate thing is that most of these people were not born handicapped. Some had for several years trodden on their legs. Disabilities in many people were caused by different things. Some were born handicap, others got infected with poliomyelitis, some were involved in almost fatal accidents, and others became disabled as a result of failed abortion attempts by their mothers. Whatever the source, one thing that is a fact is these people have certain parts of their body’s not functioning “naturally”. The very big question however is; is physical impairment an end to its victim?

One very sad thing about the disabled is that most of them at one point in time did actually “enjoy the full services” of their bodies. A visually impaired man I once chanced upon puts it this way; “Circumstances made me what I am”. It therefore frustrates them when people think of them as “unnatural”. Many physically challenged people in society receive stares and sympathetic looks from the people they come into contact with. They are given different places to sit, different places to live when actually they can sit and live among the rest of society. This attitude makes the physically impaired feel hopeless. Society seems less concerned about the disabled. One very common practice in my society is to find a disabled person struggling to move his wheelchair onto a raised portion of the road and not being able to do so whilst the so called able people walk by unconcerned. Even when people offer to help the disabled they do so creating the impression that this is someone who cannot do anything for himself. So which ever way it might be, society finds a way to humiliate the disabled person. When they offer to help they humiliate and when they ignore they do humiliate as well.

The time has now come for society to realize that except for circumstances, most of the disabled men and women around would have been working in the same offices as them or doing the same sports with them as team mates. If this is so then governments, NGOs and society have a responsibility of giving the physically challenged a “fair” deal. One might begin to wonder what role government and NGOs have to play in giving the physically impaired a “fair deal”. The government and NGOs do have a very important and vital role to play in making the lives of the disabled complete.

Governments must make sure to include the disabled in decision making positions. I hope for a day when a physically challenged person will be made a minister or special advisor to the president (At least in Ghana). This way they will make sure that or at least remind members of government to make their policies disability friendly. In Ghana, majority of the state owned as well as private buildings are not easily accessible to people with disabilities. Is it that the governments do not expect people with disabilities to go to the ministries or it is just an oversight? In Ghana’s parliament for instance, my mind cannot just recall any disabled in there. How then can they remember to make laws that are disability sensitive?

The government of Ghana has decided to import old buses from Europe to help in mass transportation. However, none of these buses makes provision for the disabled. Are they not part of the masses? Does disability take you out of those referred to as the masses? Ghanaians for instance refer to soccer as the nation’s passion but the stadia have not been built to accommodate all citizens with reference to the physically challenged. I therefore have a problem with the soccer accession since not all Ghanaians have the opportunity to watch football matches in our stadia. The government in order to create a balance between the physically challenged and the others in society must endeavor to formulate policies that favor the physically challenged. I also wait for the day when a minister will arrive at a press conference in a wheelchair to signify the bridging of the gap between the disabled and the able in society. Governments must insist on awarding government contracts to architects who have the know how about buildings that are disability friendly. The phenomenon of people losing their jobs and thus their means of livelihood simply because of an unfortunate incident of disability should also be reviewed by government. The NGOs also owe it a duty to make sure that the disabled receive a fair share of the poverty reduction packages that their able brothers receive in developing countries. They must also do well to protect the rights of the disabled in cases of human rights violations and also advocate for modern ICT equipments that embrace the ability of the disabled to belong to the global village we are in. This way the cause of the disabled would be well fought for as disability is one thing every man can go to bed and wake up with. When all these are done, the disabled then also realize that they unlike in Ynestra King’s article also have a role to play in society. This encourages them to focus and become productive.

To the rest of society, we must do well not to make derogatory remarks, give strange stares and do things that will make our unfortunate brothers feel as if they belong to different planets. Let’s accept to love (even marry them), care for and treat the disabled well. They are our brothers and sisters. The handicapped if well treated in society can make a difference no matter how small it is. I believe there is no small difference. A Swahili proverb says: “If you ever think we are too small to make a difference, try spending the night cooped up with a mosquito”. If a small insect like the mosquito can make a huge impact given the conditions necessary for it to live then a disabled too can given the necessary conditions.

There are a lot of Terry Fox’s (a teenager who went down with cancer of the legs and yet still made a difference in Canada), President Roosevelt’s (an American president who got paralyzed by polio at 39), Walt Disney’s (had a learning disability) and in Ghana our own Dr. Bashiru Koray’s (a blind lawyer) who have been left on the street to suffer and waste their talents. Society as a whole needs to wake up to the reality that the people with disabilities can make it too so that the dreams and goals of people living with disabilities do not end on the streets where these people beg for alms.


  • Ynestra, King. The Other Body: Difference, Disability and Identity Politics.
  • “The Terry Fox Foundation” Website 15 Oct. 2003

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