‘Disability Is Not Inability, so Empathize with Us’

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Jefferson "I broke white cane and it does not balance when I walk with it..."

Says a visually challenged graduate of AMEU

Jefferson Gbarjuewaye is in his thirties and is is visually challenged — blind. Despite his condition, he believes he does not need any sympathy from able-bodied Liberians.

“It was hard for me when I went blind,” he explains to the Daily Observer in an interview last Saturday in New Georgia, outside Monrovia.“I was not born blind.”

He notes that when he began to have problems with his eyes, “I went to several hospitals, including the S.D. Cooper Clinic in Sinkor, and they did not know what was going on.”

It was later, he says, that he was told he was suffering from glaucoma (a disease of the eye caused by increased optic pressure, which leads to nerve damage and potential blindness). With his parents’ and the Liberian government’s inability to provide the needed support, Jefferson says he went to one hospital after another.

In the end, he says, “I went blind and it was hard for me to accept; but I accepted my experience and went to school and completed the School of the Blind in one year.

“I learned to know how to write braille, and later I decided to go to university. I went to the African Methodist Episcopal University [A.M.E.U.] and I am glad to say that despite the initial challenges, I was able to succeed.”

Jefferson explains that he majored in theology and minored in education. “I can teach and in fact, you will be surprised to know that I can type for you to read,” he says. “All I want is the government or companies to give me a chance.”

Jefferson holds a small Itel mobile phone that he uses to make calls. “How do you know what number you are dialing?” an interested bystander poses a question to him.

Jefferson answers: “I am familiar with the location of the numbers on the phone.”  He attempts to make a call and he does this only with his fingers. After dialing the numbers, he places the phone to his ear and waits for the other to respond.

“It was hard for me when I went blind,” Jefferson Gbarjuewaye

Smiling, Jefferson says, “I miss one number and so I need to dial it again.”

“I have a question for you,” someone says, “does anyone need to feel sorry for you because you are blind?”

Jefferson laughs, “No, disability isn’t inability, so all I can say is show me empathy. Just put me in your shoes and ask yourself, if you were in my condition, what would you like other people to think about you?”

He admits that because of his situation, it is too easy for able-bodied Liberians to demonstrate a sense of sympathy for him. “I need fellow feeling and not for people to feel sorry for me,” he says.

He lifts his white cane, the traditional and recognized cane used by the blind.

“I broke it when I was walking in town the other day,” he says. He will need a new one that can help him to make his way when he is walking about his business. He does not think his parents, poor in their condition, can afford to get him one. “This was a gift from someone who came from abroad several years ago,” he says.

“Do you think most Liberians feel the need to assist people who are disabled, for instance like you?” someone else asked.

Jefferson smiles, and says, “Not many of them but at least few try their best to help.”

“Are you a happy man, Jefferson?” he hears the question and turns to look at the direction where it came from.

“Yes,” he answers. “I am happy though I may have little or nothing. Despite my condition, I have the same rights as all Liberians. I live in New Georgia Plumkor in a room from my parents and this makes me happy.”

There is someone for everyone, and the Daily Observer wants to know whether Jefferson intends to marry one day.

Smiling from ear to ear, he confesses, “Yes, I want someone who can care for me and I care for her,” though he says that is in the future after he is able to find a job to be able to raise a family.

As he sits waiting for his dream to come true, Jefferson places his future in the hands of God, he says. A member of the Mount Zion New Life Apostolic Church, he presently worships with the Grace Embassy Church of New Georgia.

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