Possibilities For People Living With Disabilities

by Bolaji Alebiosu 

The Clinical Pharmacy Clerkship in OOUTH, Sagamu runs for some 6 weeks
and allows associate Pharmacists to receive clinical training and
garner experience in clinical settings, to hone their skills,
especially in the area of drug therapy, and to experience first-hand
Pharmacy as a profession (of humanitarianism) in contrast to Pharmacy
as a course of study.

Like many things scholarly, it is compulsory- and necessarily so. Yet,
several occurrences make this experience worthwhile despite the
compulsion: the dizziness from standing for so long during the rounds,
seeing Consultants gb’ara le (unnecessarily rebuke) registrars and
medical students, witnessing patients take offence to the frequency of
students’ examinations while smiles yet light up the faces of
recuperating patients, and particularly the vast knowledge available
for grabs during rounds.

One fateful morning found me in Paediatrics, again on rounds. This
time, the memorable moment was not the gb’ara-le of the Consultant or
the stupefied look on the (helpless) recipient, it was the sight of
three infants with Cerebral Palsy (CP). And after the Consultant in
charge had questioned each mother and examined each child, it was
glaring that the ignorance, poverty and poor practices of the mothers
disabled these bundles of joy. I remember asking the soul beside me in
hushed tones, “Should we not give birth?”

Prior to this memorable encounter, People Living with Disabilities
(PLWD) were a much unknown existence to me, save the occasional
encounters in motor parks where they have become a norm, begging for
alms from all who cross their path. Yet, whenever I was that one in
their path, I rarely gave out money for security reasons. Yes, that is
so convenient. And, no, I ain’t that bad. I give them money once in a
while, usually to get them off my back but sometimes out of pity as
well.

Now, as irksome as that may sound, I am pleased to tell you that that
account (and attitude) accurately depicts the prevailing acceptance of
PLWDs: definitely below average! Ok, when was the last time you gave
out of your heart, un-begrudgingly, to a person with disability? Hmm…
I thought as much. Did you not rather scowl, or even swear? I have not
bothered to ask about the hiss since that one is a given! Yet they
need us to survive.

Yinka Shonibare is a British-Nigerian artist who lives in London. At
18, he contracted Transverse Myelitis (TM; an inflammation of the
spinal cord) resulting in a long-term disability where one side of his
body became paralysed. He subsequently obtained Bachelor of Arts and
Masters of Art degrees in London, and currently employs batik,
painting, sculpture, photography and movies in his work. Today, he is
a critically acclaimed artist whose creativity knows no bounds.

Transverse Myelitis may not be so common among the masses but it has
been scientifically proven that it is not so uncommon. In a paper
titled, Profile and Outcome of Non-traumatic Paraplegia in Kano,
Northwestern Nigeria, Transverse Myelitis was reported to be the
second most-common aetiological factor in adult patients presenting
with non-traumatic paraplegia. The report went on to note that that
finding “was similar to that reported elsewhere in Africa”.

Born healthy, Helen Keller was a typical child. She became deafblind
after she was afflicted with an unknown disease at 18 months. She
subsequently developed home signs to communicate. Through her Mother’s
unrelenting help, she met Anne Sullivan- a woman whose sight was
partially restored through a series of operations- and this changed
her life. Anne Sullivan began teaching Helen Keller manually by
writing into her hand. One day, Helen Keller had a ‘eureka moment’:
With Anne Sullivan’s help, she was able to understand that the cool
liquid flowing over her palm was spelt ‘w-a-t-e-r’; up until that
moment, she did not know that every object had a word identifying it.
And how could she? She was deafblind!

Helen Keller went on to write books, lecture, and become a political
and social activist. She was the first deafblind person to receive a
Bachelor of Arts degree and she learnt- through Anne Sullivan’s help-
to write and read braille, and speak. Anne Sullivan became Helen
Keller’s companion till the former passed away, while Helen Keller
became a worldwide celebrity who was friends with such dignitaries as
Eleanor Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Albert Einstein and Graham
Bell.

Although having different disabilities and nationalities, Yinka
Shonibare and Helen Keller had common needs in order to achieve
anything. While Yinka Shonibare relies on assistants to help him
achieve his creative ideas because of the limitations imposed by his
physical incapacity, Helen Keller not only required Anne Sullivan’s
help to learn because of the uniqueness of her disabilities, but also
relied on Anne Sullivan to read what she was required to know.

Both Yinka Shonibare and Helen Keller did not only have people who
were strong in their area of incapacity, they also had a good support
system, had access to as much education as they desired, and had
adequate resources in a right environment to nurture and unleash their
potentials regardless of any disability. It therefore comes as little
surprise that they challenged every misconception about PLWD and have
indeed expanded possibilities for PLWD.

It goes without saying, therefore, that PLWD in Nigeria (and other
countries) need support, love, finances as well as supportive
environments to unlock their potentials, and help them live and work
in dignity.  Family members are the first contact these people have
with the (social) world and how they are treated by these ones is the
determinant of how they see themselves and how they think they deserve
to be treated. Esteem issues and nightmarish struggles stem from
ill-treatment of these sources of blessing, especially by their own
blood.

PLWD therefore need to be reassured and understood; they require more
than an occasional show of concern during festivities from citizens
and friends, and they certainly do not deserve the political gimmicks
some leaders use to get airtime on television, or praises on social
media.

Why are many people without disabilities not concerned about building
adequately equipped centres for PLWD? Why are the Government-owned
centres dilapidated? The sight of many of the structures is sordid
enough to cause a nervous breakdown. Why are experts who incessantly
equip themselves not employed to teach these children? Where are their
educational materials? Why are people who do not have a passion to
forge these ones the very ones involved in their training?

All may not be available to properly train these ones but we sure can
show love; it does not cost a thing. We can make do with what is
available and go the extra mile in showing PLWD that they are
important. No, not every blame lies with the government! Have you ever
thought of learning the Sign Language just to help facilitate
conversations with deaf persons? That show of love can never be
replaced by anything. Never!

Environment is essential in predicting the outcome of PLWD. Yinka
Shonibare would not be a distinguished artist if he was not in a
favourable environment; neither would Helen Keller have had the
opportunity of speaking up for others who cannot, of teaching, and of
writing books, if she did not have all that was necessary for her
growth. Nigeria as an environment can be made more favourable for PLWD
by developing and implementing policies that favour PLWD; by providing
materials, and employing adequately trained resource personnel; and,
above all, by bringing awareness concerning PLWD.

It must be said that PLWD are not in any way limited in greatness or
possibilities, or to the creative arts; there are also great orators,
lecturers, activists, professionals, and authors with disabilities. It
is a misconception that PLWD cannot function in the society, are
cursed, ineducable and/or worthless. The world is already hard enough
as it is; we certainly do not need to make it harder for people who
have to live with disabilities they never asked for. There is so much
ability locked away in PLWD; it would be a shame to never harness
them.

Bolaji Alebiosu c/o Heal the World Foundation Nigeria.
(Edited by #Ayk_EDIT)

***
To contribute to the care for PLWDs, do contact,
Dr Freeman Osonuga.
Founder/Executive Director,
Heal the World Foundation Nigeria.
 HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]htwfnigeria.org
[email protected]
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