Editor’s Note: In partnership with the Daily Observer, Williette Safehouse Liberia presents the first installment of a regular column on people with disabilities.
Did you know inclusion is the action or state of including or being included? Did you also know that inclusion is the source of societal growth and peace? Have you ever gotten so angry that you could not think straight, or have you strived so hard to learn a particular thing yet your brain can't seem to comprehend it? Please stick with us.
As a disability rights advocate and a proud member of the Liberian Disabled Community, I, Lovett Michael Weah typically say, “No one is 100% free from disability; everyone has some form of disability, whether temporary or permanent, visible or invisible.” Sadly, those who bear the weight of educational discrimination are those whose disabilities are visible and permanent.
Let's understand certain key-words: Education is the process of gaining knowledge, whether formal or informal. Educational inclusion is visible when both students with and without disabilities receive equal learning opportunities. Disability is a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that interferes with or limits a person's ability to engage in specific tasks or actions.
Have you experienced a time when you were so stressed out or depressed that you failed a simple test? Are you battling some medical conditions like HIV/AIDS, diabetes, asthma, etc.? Those are all disabilities, but why are people with such conditions not discriminated against in Liberia? The answer is that those conditions don't have physical symbols like a cane, wheelchair, crushes, skin discoloration, etc.
Schools are concluding the 2020-2021 academic year. In pursuit of education, students with disabilities (SWDs) will begin to seek enrolment for the next school year, academic 2021-2022. Unfortunately, some institutions do not enroll persons with disabilities for what they term as “not having the rightful capacity to accommodate students with disabilities.”
In an interview, Rev. Francis K. Brown, the Dean of CWA (College of West Africa), highlighted that inaccessibility, coupled with the lack of trained teachers, are vital reasons why the acceptance of SWDs is not necessary.
“When I graduated from the Liberia School for the Blind,” said Mr. Victor Zanto Jr, a visually impaired student, “the Lott Carey Baptist Mission High School in Brewerville denied me enrollment because they did not have teachers to teach me.”
On the other hand, Madam Theresa W. Garwo, the Special and Inclusive Education Division director at the Ministry of Education, says, “Schools are willing to enroll SWDs if these students are willing to adapt to the school's learning environment.”
It is about time that authorities in the educational sector ensure that inclusivity becomes the benchmark for the existence of any school. Also, it's time for regulations to be created and enforced for institutional environments to design an accessible atmosphere to accommodate inclusivity for all.
Every form of visible disability in Liberia, including persons experiencing albinism, faces discrimination in the educational sector. A Liberian Albino Society staff member stated that students with albinism (SWAs) are still being bullied. “They call us Jartoe,” he says, “and still hold onto the myth that when an albino dies, the corpse disappears.”
The myth of individuals with albinism disappearing after death is attributed to the ritualistic killings and usage of body parts for witchcraft. Ms. Ikponwosa Ero, United Nations Independent Expert on the human rights by persons with albinism, confirms the existence of this belief in her first report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
“Many erroneously believe people with albinism are not human beings, but are ghosts or subhuman and cannot die but only disappear,” she said. “The ritualistic killings of Albinos are still ongoing in other African countries like Tanzania and Malawi.”
Determined to eliminate this and other myths about Albinos through awareness, The United Nations General Assembly, December 2014, declared June 13th of every year to be celebrated as International Albinism Awareness Day (IAAD). The Liberia Albino Society, this year, joined the world in celebrating this memorable day under the theme: “Strength Beyond All Odds.”
Finally, in fulfillment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), let’s dedicate ourselves to leaving no one behind and ensuring education for all.
Lovett Michael Weah and Tarlee A. Nuahn are Project Coordinators at Williette Safehouse, a non-profit that advocates for the rights and empowerment of people with disabilities.