By Lovett Michael Weah & Tarlee A. Nuahn
Many persons with disabilities, one way or the other, experience different forms of neglect, either from the family, the community, the school, worship centers, or the national government. It is worth noting that the problem mentioned above is not only in Liberia; it is a worldwide pandemic that experts are trying to find a cure for.
In an exclusive interview with Ditch the Label, Adam Pearson, actor, presenter, and campaigner against disability hate crimes, exclaimed, “WE, AS A PEOPLE, NEED TO BREAKTHROUGH THIS ASSUMPTION THAT DISABILITY HATE CRIME IS A DISABLED PROBLEM, FOR DISABLED PEOPLE.”
“Retrospect is a wonderful thing. At the moment, being bullied was a rather traumatic experience, probably one of the worst of my life. When you are that age, you’re starting to discover who you are, find your way in the world while at the same time fighting a losing battle with your hormones AND getting your GCSEs.” Adam said.
“When you add being bullied and having a disfigurement to the aforementioned,” Adam continued, “it turned me into a bitter, moody, angry teenager. I did things I’m not proud of and prioritized being “popular” and “cool” by overworking hard. I dealt with being bullied incredibly severely. I can never undo those things, and to be honest I don’t think I would. I firmly believe the experiences we go through shape us as people and make us stronger and better at the end of it all.”
What are some forms of neglect that PWDs face in Liberia?
Our society has seen an enormous level of neglect faced by individuals, which has led to some form and fraction of depression, low self-esteem, etc. Several individuals with disabilities are struggling to build their self-confidence in the face of harsh descrimination and neglect.
Neglect comes in several ways; today we will share with you a few ways PWDs are neglected:
The lack of Inclusive society and easy access to road connectivity is one of many reasons people with disabilities face neglect within communities. Individuals are stuck where they are because passages leading to the destination aren't easily accessible, leading to neglect. Major streets in the capitol and other places contain cracks and holes with dirty water, dirt and harmful substances making it extremely risky for PWDs to travel alone. Sadly, PWDs are forced to get their children off school and make them as traveling companions. In addition to the bad road condition, marketers cover sidewalks forcing pedestrians to walk on the main street. This makes it more difficult for PWDs to navigate the streets as they are to watch out for marketers, moving vehicles and other pedestrians.
The majority of the individuals living with disabilities face a colossal level of neglect regarding proper education in Liberia. Families of individuals with disabilities deprive their children of these opportunities. Other times, children with disabilities (CWDs)are not given the full opportunity to learn like the other children because of their deficiency which may also lead to neglect. Additionally, there is no single school for persons with disabilities up to senior high level; worse of all, persons with disabilities are not at liberty to attend any school of their choice. Right now, no policy mandates schools to absorb PWDs and provide a suitable learning environment. Ironically, the government is a proud signatory and supporter of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that support the education of PWDs and pledge to leave no one behind.
According to Africa Hype, Liberia is the third poorest country in Africa with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 360 as of 2020. The World Bank rates Liberia’s poverty rate at 54% despite its relatively low population of approximately 4.5 million as compared to other countries with a very high population rate. Africa Hype attributes the cause of Liberia's poverty to poor infrastructure development, substantial external debts, and poor leadership.
Unemployment refers to the share of the labor force that is not working but is available and capable. From the above statistic, it is clear that the unemployment rate in Liberia is also high even amongst non-disabled people; talk less of the unemployment rate amongst PWDs.
There have been persons with disabilities who have contributed immensely to the world because of how inclusive and encouraging their environments were. For instance, one of the world's most famous scientists, Stephen Hawking, who became speech impaired due to a disease, would not have reached the heights he reached if his society denied him of or limited his level of education, shattered his self-confidence by making him feel inferior, and made him the epitome of sorrow. Many other famous persons with disabilities from different countries faced some discrimination; however, at least not by indirectly limiting their education to elementary level or denying them from entering public buildings, or treating them as a liability rather than an asset, moreover, at least not in this 21st century.
Have you thought of what will happen if PWDs are continuously neglected in the next 3-5 years?
Within the next 3-5 years, if we continue to neglect the disabled community in Liberia, this will massively cause a society of high level of low self-esteem for specific individuals, which is damaging to the growth and development of this nation and will be against the UN's sustainable development goal.
Mental illness is one of the most troubling causes of Liberia's society since the civil war. Many young people are suffering from depression and are using the situation for addiction. If this is not tackled as early as within these few months, our society will continue to lose future generations to the ill hands of a depressed, struggling, and neglected community.
Suicidal Thoughts: In Liberia, we've lately experienced increasing suicide deaths; this number would rapidly grow if we aren't focused on those who feel neglected.
“The power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation-building and reconciliation,” said Nelson Mandela.
When we refuse to provide equal opportunity and equal access to education for all, we are breeding a society that will remain novice to improving the need for quality education, social and economic development, and a skilled workforce. Being uneducated will mainly increase the crime rate in the country, as we have experienced over the years. We continue to play host to marginalized individuals on the streets while remaining satisfied with our lives in danger.
Are there benefits when PWDs are included in the development of a nation?
Yes! There are massive benefits to inclusiveness.
As Martin Luther King Jr. would say, “It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people.” Every time we choose to stand up for someone being treated unjustly, we stand up for everyone. When I advocate for the best services for my son, I am also advocating for future students.
When we include persons with disabilities in society, we build their confidence level, provide them with opportunities to support themselves and achieve their goals for life, promote self employability, and reduce the number of people begging in the streets.