AFTER watching a recent investigative documentary in BBC Three’s Disability Season, ‘The World’s Worst Place To be Disabled?’, presented by 30 year old disabled journalist Sophie Morgan, I feel fortunate to live as a physically disabled person in the Western world.
Due to my severe debilitating condition I rely heavily on assistance from others and people being accepting of these impairments. Without this my life would be much more of a struggle than it already is, I could not even be accepted as a member of society never mind achieve my personal and career path goals.
The programme focussed on how Ghana, as a less developed country compared to the UK, deals with disability giving a real insight into what societal beliefs the average Ghanaian has towards disabled people. Morgan was keen on travelling to the country to see how attitudes towards disability differ around the world.
It was difficult to believe the prejudice attitudes, revealed in the programme, exist so strongly coming from a country where you are taught to believe everyone is equal. Some of the main cultural beliefs in Ghana and across other African nations are fuelled by religion and spirituality. Faiths can be so strong there that what is naturally considered right or wrong, like murder for instance, is blurred and more or less ignored. Common values presented in the documentary therefore, seemed of the immoral and even barbaric nature.
It is important for nations to have their own heritage and identity which Ghana clearly has and is proud of. I have a lot of respect and admiration for this, but when I became aware of the ideological belief that disabled people have been cursed, so are born with or have acquired a disability and should be ritualistically murdered to cleanse society a shiver was sent down my spine. Individuals are literally poisoned to death with their bodies sent down a river to get rid of evil spirits. Spiritual healers say ‘the river has come for them’.
Most of the young disabled Ghanaians are not accepted by their families, considered to be a biological mistake. In the documentary Morgan visited prayer camps all across rural Ghana where disabled people are sent for spiritual intervention to cure what is allegedly ‘wrong’ with them. Although I understand spirituality is important within certain cultures, treating disabled people through these methods is not always successful and sometimes medical intervention is the only way forward. Seven year old Charlotte, at one of the camps, was screaming in agony just because her mother was intent on her daughter seeing the spiritual treatment through. So much of the financial resources are being used across the country for these practices yet they could be used elsewhere for medical resources.
The million dollar question to ask is ‘Are the right resources available in less developed countries?’. Maybe spirituality is the only area that can help disabled people? However, there are people that can help but they just refuse to do so. A disabled man who was said to be mentally ill was forced to go to one of the country’s many prayer camps and is now living his life chained up in a dark room. No person deserves to be treated in this way but the problem goes deeper, most disabled people in Ghana accept their position in society and families are brainwashed to be ashamed of what they have created. Strong rooted attitudes like this may take decades to change.
What brought this home was when Morgan interviewed 30 year old Francis at his family home in rural Ghana who is literally spending his life lying on a bed as the reality is his whole family feels disgusted and appalled by him. Francis was forced by a relative feeding him the answers to Morgan’s questions, to paint a better picture of his life saying that the only reason he receives no help and is left is because ‘there is no one in my family strong enough’. A fear of ignoring common beliefs is so overwhelming that disabled people literally have no voice.
There are facilities in Ghana that disabled people can visit like schools and orthopaedic centres which is refreshing to see, but as Morgan admitted the government offers no support for these centres. They are forced to fund themselves, ‘battling against traditional beliefs, which stop people from coming to places like this for treatment.’ Youngsters still had ambitions of becoming doctors despite their circumstances or were given the right disability aids to assist their lives. After her family said she was cursed a woman found a young girl and named her Blessing as she was proud of who this disabled girl was, the centre will now give her a chance in life which at the end of the day is what everybody wants.
In the latter part of the documentary Morgan visited Mr Dennis, the Secretary for The National Council for People with Disabilities in Ghana, to see what was being done to stop the terrible crimes committed against disabled people across the country. Simply, the answer given was that there is not a great deal that can be done in court case scenarios given the number of people defending what is happening to disabled people in Ghana, with few prosecutions made against fetish priests performing the ritualistic murders.
For anybody, never mind just disabled people, making the most out of life is the only thing you can do. A young disabled man named Adamson has been living on the streets for 10 years in extreme poverty with all his belongings under one blanket. He has not let his disability get the better of him though, creating his own happiness with other disabled Ghanaians. A game known as Skate Football, was played on the streets of Accra, the country’s capital, with the local community encouraging and motivating the youngsters at the same time.
It’s a shame the deeply religious people, the fetish priests, think they are benefiting society and what they are doing is humane. This was really reflected in the mindset of your average Ghanaian, in the early stages of the programme, when Morgan attempted using public buses in Accra with Adamson, but both were fighting a losing battle. Not only was entry on the bus refused, they were just laughed and smiled at as if they were second class citizens because of their disabilities. It was as if public transport is inaccessible for disabled people because they are deemed not worthy of helping, Morgan was quick to point out during the documentary, ‘I just feel that people are ashamed of disabled people. That they aren’t human beings’.
More documentaries need to be shown like this on British television to expose how vulnerable members of society are being treated so there can be greater Western intervention. If I am going to put things into perspective, the challenges I have been facing getting my University care package in place seem minuscule compared to the bigger picture of disability around the world. Here in Britain, we have come far with raising disability awareness but we have to accept this is not the case all around the world. Clearly there is still a long way to go.
Written by Sam Waddington
Sam is 18 years old and has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He is a Trailblazer and an aspiring journalist. You can follow his WordPress blog on https://swaddersblog.wordpress.com/
Photo courtesy of BBC