By Lovett Michael Weah & Tarlee A. Nuahn
Have you thought of why some students with disabilities strive for excellence in school? Have you thought of why PWDs are reduced to street begging? Have you considered why some PWDs refrain from making friends even though their hearts long to do so? Have you thought of a person with a disability as selfish and unfriendly?
The answer to all these questions is deeply rooted in “abuse.”
Now, let’s take a closer look at the meaning of abuse.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines abuse as the ability to speak or oppress someone violently or rudely. Additionally, abuse is when someone causes you physical or emotional distress or pain. It comes in different forms, including disrespect, mental torcher, psychological torcher, physical torcher, etc.
“Studies show that people with disabilities are more likely to experience abuse than people without them. Abuse is premised on power and control, and people with disabilities often face specific barriers to accessing the help that make them more vulnerable to abuse.” (Abuse in Disability Communities - The Hot Line)
From a legal standpoint, abuse is the ‘violation of an individual’s human or civil rights, through the act or actions of another person or persons.’
Here is some abuse that is visible in Liberia:
- Constraints and restrictive practices involve restraining or isolating people other than medical necessity or preventing immediate self-harm. This type of abuse is seen in almost every sector of Liberia. From rural to urban areas, the worst of all, the government, to some extent, practices such inhumane acts.
For instance, persons with disabilities are not allowed to enter certain public buildings, yet the government remains mute about it. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals are entirely left out. They don’t have immediate access to speeches made by the president and other government officials, thereby leaving them ignorant of vital information from higher authorities and events in society.
Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals also face many difficulties in reporting injustices. They are forced to remain mute rather than visiting the police station that has no sign language interpreter. They suffer humiliation in silence because no one is willing to hear them out.
- Physical abuse - involves physical actions such as punching, hitting, slapping, burning, etc. Quite recently, there was an incident in the Red Light market where a non-disabled man beat up a visually impaired guy. In an interview, Abraham Salley, the victim, told us that the commotion began when he accidentally stepped on this man while trying to board a crowded bus. After the fight that left Mr. Salley with torn clothes and bruises, the police got involved; however, the man’s family claimed that he had a mental disability. Sadly, the police dismissed the case without further investigation because the perpetrator claimed he had a mental disability, leaving Mr. Salley to treat himself.
I doubt that the result would be the same if Mr. Salley was not a disabled person or was a member of a government official’s family.
- Sexual abuse - is forcing someone to engage in sexual activity against their will.
Individuals with disabilities being very vulnerable to sexual abuse, especially within the communities I believe once experienced, pose a very high risk towards their stability and damage their mental health.
There have been several other forms of abuse occurring in Liberia, but most such cases are not reported. These situations have severe negative social, economic, and psychological impacts on the lives of persons with disabilities.
Socially, persons with disabilities struggle with finding friends who accept them for who they are. Most students with disabilities are victims of bullying; some families keep them out of significant decision-making issues.
Economically, PWDs remain the poorest of the poor in Liberia due to the countless abuses they face daily. PWDs being the poorest of the poor does not come as a shock because they are practically denied quality education, formal or vocational, access to employment, etc. It is only natural for an unskilled person to live as a beggar.
Psychologically, most PWDs don’t have confidence in their abilities at all. Most feel that no matter what they do or how hard they work to gain education, it will be a waste because no one wishes to employ them regardless. This perception may not be 100% true, but this is what their minds are trained to believe due to the constant rejection and psychological abuse they endure.
Liberians with disabilities cope with these abuses by fighting and working hard to prove their worth and be accepted in the cycle or resign to their fate of being the lowest class citizen by begging on the streets.
Nevertheless, some PWDs, especially students, strive for recognition and respect by studying hard to prove their academic worth. It is worth noting that PWDs, like anyone, enjoy the company of others; however, the structure of the society makes it so tricky that befriending a non-disabled person, as a PWD, is almost impossible.
For instance, when I first entered university, I didn’t have friends, and being an introverted person, I could not initiate friendship or casual conversation. Sadly, no one was willing to befriend me. My first day in class aroused gossip amongst my colleagues. Some speculated that I went to beg, while others said I had lost my way. I was too shocked to correct them, so I ignored their speculations. It was not until after the results of our first quiz when everyone wanted to befriend me. Shortly after, my popularity proliferated, and I became one of the most popular students on campus, not because of my social or economic status but my academic performance.
I think it’s about time that authorities in the educational and disability sectors ensure that disability and inclusion are taught in every school. There is no way society can erase the existence of persons with disabilities. With the knowledge of disability and inclusion circulating, the rate of abuse against PWDs will reduce substantially.