Disability and the terminologies

Tuesday 4th September, 2018
Persons With Disability (2)

A GNA Feature by Hannah Awadzi

Accra, Sept. 4, GNA - I almost lost my cool when the voice on the other end of the phone used the term “Mentally Retarded” referring to a group of persons with intellectual disabilities.

She was looking for a referral from me to donate to an organization that handles children with intellectual disabilities.

I quickly corrected her and said “madam you are referring to children with intellectual disabilities” I will send you an email on organizations I know that handles such children then you can follow up with your donation.

On another occasion, a mother of a child with autism vented out her frustration when some members of the panel discussing inclusive education kept repeating “Autism children” instead of a child with autism.

Apparently the panel members did not see anything wrong with the former term, this panel member who was a person with visual impairment himself at one point referred to children with visual impairment as “blind children”.

I have witnessed many occasion where people have argued about terminologies used to refer to persons with disabilities.

Some have referred to children with autism or Down syndrome as “Imbecile” simply because that is what is stated in our law books.

Terminologies used to describe persons with disabilities however had an impact on how people treat persons with disabilities.

Imagine referring to someone as an imbecile, it immediately connotes and triggers a barrage of negative feelings and responses.

In the disability world I have come to understand that a person is a human being first before his or her disability, so we do not precede their description with the disability.

It is much better to say for instance: “A person with visual impairment, a child with autism, a child with cerebral palsy, a person with physical disabilities, etc” terms like cripple are no longer used.

Again how are we as a people able to give terms to disability in our local languages, I have been looking for the Twi word for Cerebral Palsy for instance to no avail. Why will any group of people decide to refer to a human being as a “River child” when we all know that the river cannot give a child.

Hence if a child is referred to as a “River Child” immediately it triggers a barrage of negative response, which also makes the child feel less of a human being.

Thanks to knowledge that is increasing, we have seen persons with cerebral palsy doing great and making great strides in their field of endeavour. We have seen persons with disabilities who are lawyers, doctors, journalists, teachers, musicians and artists who contribute immensely to the development of their society.

Disability does not make a person less of a human being; disability can happen to anyone at any time and it is about time for us as a country to give serious thoughts to the abilities of persons with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities should not and cannot be synonymous with begging, their abilities should enable them to earn a living. In my opinion, disability is God’s own way of showing us diversity.

Mrs Gifty Twum Ampofo, Deputy Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, in her address during the celebration of the 2018 Children’s day, advised people to desist from giving monies to persons with disabilities begging on the street.

I cannot but to agree to this since I believe that there is no dignity in begging. Before you describe any person with disability in a derogatory manner, think about the impact that it will have not just on the person but on the person’s family and on society as a whole.

It is time to change our attitudes, thoughts and actions towards persons with disability and you count in this changing process.

GNA