By Yvonne Elikplim Harlley-Kanyi


People with disability are not weak. They are not incapable of doing things for themselves. They only face difficulties trying to fix their needs and we all do same. You and I face barriers in life at points in time— in an attempt to go about our routine activities. Simply, we are all disabled, says Afsheen Mahmood of the Applicant Panel.


So why do we make people with “visible” disabilities feel like second-hand citizens with our words?


In schools, workplaces and in our communities, we don’t look beyond the wheel chair, the hearing aid or the walking aid and give derogatory names to people with disabilities without looking at ourselves.


Language is said to be an incredible powerful tool which can be used to create a sense of empowerment, pride, identity and purpose but, when improperly used, can have a devastating effect or devastating effects, even with the best of intentions.


Unfortunately, we use the power of language to discriminate, abuse and perpetuate injustice against people with disabilities, trampling upon their dignity to affirm our perceived superiority over them.


Mr Francis Asong, Executive Director, Voice Ghana, a disability-focused organization, is of the view that the good use of language could help change perceptions and promote the culture of inclusion of persons with disabilities.


Despite the preaching of inclusiveness across the globe, words such as “handicapped”, “disabled person”, “impaired” “wheel chair user” are still being deployed in the media, especially in developing countries, making people living with disabilities the most vulnerable in those countries.  


Just as Rick Hansen Foundation puts it, “language shapes the way we think; if we talk about disability in a negative way, it causes us to also think about it negatively.” There is, therefore, the need to adopt positive vocabulary that would be respectful to all.


Although inclusive language appeared cumbersome, simple descriptions like “people with disabilities”, low-vision”, and “non-visible” disability” could be used instead of, “sufferers from”, “challenged by” or “struggles with”.


Interestingly, although section 37 sub-section 1 of the Persons With Disability Act, 2006 (Act 715) cautions against the use of derogatory names for persons with disability, and prescribes penalties, such offences are over looked.


A State Attorney and an advocate for Persons with Disability, Lawyer Andrews Adugu, at a training programme by Penplusbyte for selected female Journalists in Ho, recently, called for an effective enforcement of laws protecting PWDs. “…the law must bite and bite very well to deter people from abusing the rights of the disabled,” he said.


Aside the enforcement of laws, social re-orientation and good social protection schemes can also help change the negative perceptions of people with disabilities. When this is done, then we will successfully lift people with disabilities from the private sphere to the public sphere for economic and political participation.


The writer is an officer of the Information Services Department.


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