“…he believed that others should be referred to as “individuals having a disability” rather than “disabled individuals”. Regarding the subject of Stigmatization and Discrimination of Persons having disabilities…I say to you, you in particular, be the change. Let change start in you, and be bold to be the change.”
I attended a presentation yesterday by Josh Sundquist, organized by the Office of Disability Services at JMU. Josh Sundquist is a Paralympian, a bestselling author and motivational speaker. It was a really really interesting talk, Sundquist is a hilarious speaker. I found it emboldening how he used to humor as a channel through which he accepted and dealt with a disability. He mentioned how he believed that others should be referred to as “individuals having a disability” rather than “disabled individuals”. Josh shared several stories with the audience – about his life, about Sarah Madison, awkward questions he had received, and what he does with his right-shoes…
Now at the event, there were sign language interpreters, braille writings, and hearing aids… There was also someone typing out whatever was being said at the event (I think you call her a typist), and that was projected onto a screen on stage. She even typed out questions from the audience! I was so impressed – I am not a fast ‘typer’ (although I started using Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing since I was 7 yrs old).
What stood out to me more than all of this, was how much empathy has been developed for people with disabilities in JMU, and in the United States at large. In countries I have lived in (Ghana and Nigeria mostly), the stigma surrounding people with disabilities is disheartening. I grew up oblivious to affairs of this nature. However, the concern and efforts put into this subject of disabilities in James Madison University is impressive. One of the things I love about my international education experience is I am being exposed to different ways of doing things. Today I learned that “I can be the change”.
While undergoing training to work at the Student Success Center of the JMUniversity, I had the opportunity of visiting the Office of Disability Services. What a space! There were rooms tailored to the needs of individuals from various walks of life. The staff was willing to use all of their available resources to assist students with any challenges they faced as a result of their disability. It is a blessing I would say, to have so much help at your disposal – all there for you to succeed against all odds. I only hope students actually use these facilities.
In a country like Ghana, I wonder how individuals with disabilities are treated. In her article, , a former reality TV contestant who is a paraplegic with a T4 Spinal Complete injury, remarked during her visit to Ghana, “…I found some things that many tourists, holidaymakers or backpackers would never see. Nor, in fact, would many Ghanaians. The people I met during my trip were mostly devout Christians, but who had imported traditional beliefs to shape the way they explain disability. It soon dawned on me that for many people, disability was considered not a physical or mental impairment, but in fact a spiritual sickness or curse that could either be healed by prayer or by confinement, and in some cases by physical violence.”
I’d pause there and comment on that another day. I do hope I can be the change and impact the lives of many suffering from stigmatization as a result of disabilities in the West African region. Someone may tell me that it does not help to point out problems without offering solutions. Solutions, you say? I say there is no “microwave solution” to this issue in countries like Ghana and Nigeria. It is a mindset issue, I believe. There should be public education to build empathy for individuals with disabilities. Education! Education! Education! Knowledge is key in these affairs. I know another person would ask me, “What if after being educated, people choose not to change?”.
I say to you, you in particular, be the change. Let change start in you, and be bold to be the change. Just, be the change.