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Off the Paralympians go!!!

Thu, 23 Aug 2012 Source: theodore m.k. viwotor

Barely a week from now, the Paralympic Games would begin at the same venue in London where the Olympic Games were recently held and Ghana would be among the nations that would be contesting for the medals at stake.

Various Persons With Disability (PWDs) with different forms of ability would demonstrate the age-old saying that disability is not inability when they do virtually the same thing their able-bodied counterparts did a few days or weeks ago. The relatively unknown games have for some time now become a platform for PWDs to also feel very important, especially those from countries that pay less attention to them. Discrimination or disregard for such persons may be endemic in some countries for many reasons but from a personal observation, it could be caused by an attitude of ‘each for himself, God for us all’ which even affects those without disabilities.

Until recently when some public and private facilities in the country started having access routes for the physically challenged, PWDs found it very difficult and in some cases impossible to go into some buildings.

This attitude might have predated the current generations since even the colonial masters who, to some extent, should have known better, did not put up buildings suitable for the disabled. As a result, many of the public institutions like the ministries, departments, metropolitan and district offices have no consideration for the disabled.

The situation is the same with many private businesses that have only stairways without any access routes for the disability fraternity. The Ghanaian Times recently carried a story that depicted the difficulty some renowned PWDs went through when they joined others in mourning the late President John Evans Atta Mills. The likes of Mr. Francis Adjetey Sowah, President of the Ghana Amputee Football Federation (GAFF) as well as the Amputee Football Federation of Africa (AFFA), Mr. Ivan Greenstreet, General Secretary of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) and Mr. Zita Okaikoi, Board Chairman of the Ghana Disabled Foundation, among others, went through hell climbing stairs at one time or another.

Actually, that has been their fate in their day-to-day activities in a system that was built without such considerations for them. Mr. Adjetey Sowah uses one of the offices at the Accra Sports Stadium that was built less than a decade ago and it is saddening to see him do the same thing he did during the funeral on a daily basis to and from his office. Only God knows the effect of this daily struggle on his health and its contribution to further weakening him and perhaps reducing his stay on earth. Many PWDs face a similar case on a regular basis at their various places of abode and work.

In spite of this, there is some hope for PWDs as civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGO) and pressure groups continue to put pressure on those who matter to get the right things done. There has been a significant transformation in the way structures like public buildings, bridges and pavements are now being built and this is worth praising.

Back to the Paralympic Games, it is not surprising that very little or virtually nothing is known by many Ghanaians when it comes to the Paralympic Games that have been in existence for some time now. Perhaps it is because Ghana started taking part in the games from the year 2004 and more so has not yet won any medal since that first participation.

It could also be a reflection of our attitude as a nation towards the disabled who have been and continue to be with us in our daily dealings. Our system has not been too friendly for the disabled and this can be seen at public places and in our various homes.

It would be wrong to look at this issue from only one side of the coin, thereby creating the impression that PWDs are perfect people who do no wrong but are just being discriminated against. There are many instances where the disabled themselves have been part of actions and inactions that led to the discrimination against their comrades. There have been times when some of them have abused attempts at helping them and many privileges given to them. After going through training at no cost to them, some PWDs choose to go back to the streets to beg instead of making use of the training they acquired. They give the excuse that they are not given equal opportunities to make use of their training and all these contribute to the wrong societal attitude towards them. This remains an unending debate.

As the Paralympic Games take-off, Ghanaians have an opportunity to witness what would be some of the wonders of the world, especially when they see the ‘discarded ones’ doing what many able-bodied ones dare not do. Some of them have even developed their various talents to the point where no one can match them in any competition and this offers an opportunity to all Ghanaians to appreciate what disability entails and what opportunities could be created for those in whom we may be seeing no hope.

They will contest in the 100m, 200m, 400m, swimming, football and many other sports that were thought to be for only the able ones. It is amazing to see armless persons swimming with their legs only whilst one-legged cyclists do kilometres on the road; what about those who use the power of the muscles of their arms to race past each other? Then comes the double amputees who lift weights that are beyond the capability of ‘whole’ persons; it is amazing!

This writer seeks to encourage all Ghanaians, especially those who hardly see the disabled participate in such games, to develop interest in the Paralympics in order to learn more about them and also get inspiration from them. Their performance poses a great challenge to those of us who think life is too difficult and get discouraged by tough circumstances we face. Some PWDs live permanently with such disabilities and have no option that to adapt or perish.

What about us? We just face temporary situations at one time or another so we have a lot to learn from them.

These games would also encourage those living with PWDs not to look down upon them or give up on continually supporting them in numerous ways. It is not easy living with a PWD, especially those with a more severe form of disability. One may dislike them, give up on them or mistreat them because of their behaviour.

Many a times their behaviour is just the consequence of what they go through and not a deliberate act. A lot of patience and tolerance is required to keep moving on with them.

Those who would be competing at the games may not be any different from their counterparts that are not able to do any sports. The difference may just be systemic or attitudinal as the Ghanaian situation stands.

Elsewhere like the United Kingdom where the games are taking place, there are facilities and facilitators or experts whose job or vocation it is to continually identify and raise those sportsmen. Almost every city has a disability sports centre specifically designed for the disabled. Among them are those who were at one time or another rejected by family, neighbours or society in general. When you live in a country without a disability sports centre or that has very few rehabilitation centres, you can imagine the challenges PWDs face trying to develop their talents.

From hopelessness, many athletes have now become the spotlight of global news lenses. Oscar Pistorius remains a hero today for becoming the first disabled to contest in the mainstream Olympics. His name has become a household name across the world.

Ghana’s representatives, Charles Narh Teye, Alem Mumuni, Anita Fordjour and Botsyo Nkegbe were at one time or another rejected or nearly rejected by those around them but today, we are all looking up to them for medals after their able-bodied counterparts failed to make an impact in the main games.

Some of us who have monitored them over the years are very hopeful they would not fail us in any way in spite of the lack of or little support they had prior to the games. They may be harbouring some unhappiness but undaunted as they are, they will not let that affect them in any way. They are determined and would bring smiles to our faces.

Ghanaians are implored to follow their exploits to see how best they can also contribute to making life better for the disabled and to encourage them to easily fit into mainstream society in order to contribute their quota to our development.

Off they go and let not your eyes be off them!!!

Source: theodore m.k. viwotor