Hovika T. Swu
Philimi, Ikishe Village Dimapur
World disability day is just a month away and as a way of preparing the way for it let me write down some few lines to open up and prepare our mind so that we will have something to think over when that day finally arrives. Today we live in a world where countless of differently able people (Persons with disabilities) are denied of their rights in government and public sectors, many society do not even consider their existence and since these group of people cannot stand for their right to fight for their existence, there is an urgent need of advocates who will stand for them, speak for them and fight the society on their behalf in order to communicate the truth that differently able people have a right to live and built their own world in the society. Keeping this in mind let me highlight how we common people can advocate the right of differently able people in many different ways.
What is advocacy or advocating?
Dictionary defines advocacy as a public support for a course of action; advocating the rights of persons with disabilities simply means standing for the rights of disabled people, speaking or acting on their behalf, taking action to help them say what they want, secure their rights, represent their interests and standing for them not simply with the way of speaking but by intervening physically, mentally and financially by making various long term plans and aims.
Understanding the problems faced by Persons with Disabilities
1. Emotional Problems:
Inferiority and shame: Inferiority is said to be an important emotion that invades everybody, able or disabled, rich or poor, men or women but majority of people who faces this throughout their lifetime are disabled people. They feel inferior to others; they feel shy to be social or even to talk to others by thinking about their disability. They feel as if they are cursed and never tend to gain their self esteem, for some disabled people these kinds of problems seems to grow or developed as the person grows and learn to know the reality of the world but sometimes this problems is caused because of the treatment they receive from people around them.
Anger: Anger represents one of the unpleasant or negative emotions that are learned by child during the course of h/her normal growth and development. When an individual need is thwarted and h/her freedom are restrained, h/she is tempted to get irritated and angry. Differently able people goes through this same problem because their need is thwarted, their freedom is restrained and blocked completely, they cannot do anything on their own, this makes h/her angry to God and on their own self because they feel so lonely while the able people are enjoying life in every way.
Frustration: Frustration comes from failure to meet one’s needs and wishes, from mistakes, from personal limitations and from lack of meaning of life. In the case disabled people they are often frustrated because their needs are never met; they are always pushed aside rather than treating them with love and care. They end up being disappointed, discouraged with their existence and live in deep frustration.
Anxiety: Dictionary of pastoral care defines anxiety as a psychic condition which is experienced by all human being. However anxiety in disabled people are more serious than any normal people, Anxiety of the disabled person comes along with fear of life, fear of what tomorrow holds, fears of security and fears of being left alone. Sometimes their anxiety is often left unattended or un reported leading to even more psychological disability.
Depression: depression has been recognized as a common problem for more than three thousand years ago. It is a common psychological disorder, it is said that people who are depressed are feel sad, discouraged and worthless and like any other normal individual the person with disability has an emotion of depression which is cause out of their own hopeless situation of life, even despite their desire they cannot keep in touch with the world as a result they end up feeling depressed and frustrated with their life.
2. Social Problems:
Stigmatization: Many people with disabilities are looked down as inferior or imperfect being and people often avoid associating with them, sometimes they are not even counted as living member of the family.
Abandonment/Infanticide: we have witnessed many family killing the child, or abandoning the child, especially in the Indian context where the families are poor and below poverty line, they tend to kill the child or throw away the child in the street or garbage’s if the child was born with certain disabilities in order to avoid the shame of the society and to do away with the problems of feeding the disabled child throughout h/her life time.
Confinement: Another serious problem that the disabled people face is confinement, often as a means of hiding what is perceived to be disgraceful aspect in the family, they are kept in seclusion; sometimes parents keep them in care centres and never visit them. Even in Christian family it has come to light that many parents and siblings tend to hide the disabled member of the family by locking them inside the room when some high profile guest visit their home.
Illiteracy: though the education system for disabled system has changed into better way in some places but maximum of the states in our country, especially in the remote places and villages there are still no provision for disabled school or education for disabled people. They are left out of education program either because of no school or because of no facility to go to school and year by year their education is neglected. Some parents tend to think what if h/she get education, h/she is disabled and there’s no point of getting education and with this, their education is neglected and this way the disabled people totally becomes illiterate.
Denial of Rights: Many disabled people are denied of their political, economic, religious and education right, on the ground that they are disabled. Looking to the states in north east India where the tribal people inherits the property, kingship of their father, which is the birth right of every son’s and daughter’s, but if the son/daughter happens to be disabled they are not considered worthy to inherit their father’s property or even those who are from the king’s lineage, a disabled son cannot inherit the throne because of h/her disability. All their rights of inheritance are denied because of just being a disabled person.
Advocacy Strategies: While thinking of advocating the rights of persons with disabilities, here are some of the strategies that should be considered by advocates.
Focus on Person/ Self-Advocacy
Focus on person means to focus first on the person he/she is, instead of his/her disabilities. It is the way to help the differently people recognise the value of themselves and not on their disabilities. It is also a way to encourage and supports people with disability to advocate on their own behalf to the extent possible, or on a one to one or group basis, it is the act of speaking out on one’s own behalf and is considered to be at the core of all types of activism. Self-advocates assert their right to make decisions about matters that affect their lives. Self-advocacy begins with the belief that they are worthy, a feeling that may not come naturally to people with disabilities and therefore advocates need to put total focus on the disabled person so that they may first realise their self worthiness and stand for their own right before anyone could stand for them. The first advocacy step is to help the disabled person their value, their rights and their self worth.
It is very important whether the cause is moral, ethical or faith driven, that everyone, without exception, understand the importance of advocacy for disabled and therefore seminars, trainings, retreats, should be conducted in the society, highlighting about needs of the disabled people and offer trainings that will also enable the trainees to advocate on someone’s behalf.
Offering seminars and training can be an effective tool of advocacy, as through this people will know more about disability needs, they will be provided basic knowledge and will be equipped so that they will become friends of disable without discriminating them.
Advocacy through Special Education
The concept of Special education was introduced in the world through United state of America in the year 1975 where they made a policy named “education for all handicapped children” where the Government forced the rules upon all schools saying ‘all schools must educate all children with disabilities’.
Later in the year 1994 during the world conference on special needs education held in Salamanca the Government of Spain in co-operation with UNESCO declared ‘special education’ from national to all local level. This education must taken up seriously by all public and governments officials even in our land with full regular government payments in order to keep the special education more effective.
Using literature as an advocacy strategy can be very effective for advocates as an English politician said ‘Pen is mightier than the sword’. Using pen and writing books and publishing it can easily speak to people’s heart. One of the recent literature strategy that the special education committee has undertaken is using comics in order to educate the children about the disability rights, so literatures such as magazines, tracks, pamphlets, books, comics, can all play an important role in advocacy for disabled.
Advocacy through mass media
Media advocacy is the strategy of promoting disabled rights and letting the people aware of the crisis, life situation and hardship that disabled people go through, it is way for fighting and standing for disabled people through Televisions, Internet, radio and newspaper by creating advertisement, disabled right promotional movies and even drama’s and serials. It is one of the strongest advocacy strategies in today’s world as we see the influence of mass media in every corner of the world.
Advocacy through mass media does three important things. FIRST it will place attention on an issue by bringing it to light, SECOND it holds the spotlight on the issue, and THIRD it seeks to advance social or public initiatives as a primary approach to the problem.
The role of family and friends as advocates
Friends and family often ask how they can help their loved one. There are obvious answers, like helping the disabled cope with their physical or mental limitations, or driving them to medical appointments but friends and family play an important role in helping Social Security understand the disabled person’s limitations.
It is a fact that doctors see the patient for fifteen minutes every few months but friends and family see them every day, friends and family can become their first strong advocates because they understand their disabled family member more than any counsellor or advocates that comes from outside. It is therefore very important that the family member and friends of the disabled know their capability of becoming advocates and minister to the needs of their loved disable member of the family and advocate on their behalf by encouraging, caring, speaking of their needs and standing for their rights.
The role of Christian ministers as advocates
Christian Ministers as advocates can become the channel of blessing to many PWD’s in the society, the Christian minister may not involve in providing special education, may not offer trainings but the best things that the pastor can do is to EQUIP THE BELIEVERS, by teaching through the word of God and equip and prepare the believers to do ministry towards the disabled and make the believers realise the rights of the disabled people. Secondly Christian ministers should INFORM THE CONGREGATION after equipping them if there any needs of the disabled people he/she must inform the congregation to take action. Thirdly he/she should form an ACTION TEAM among the believers through whom he/she will execute all the plans made for disabled people.
Disability as stated above is said to be at least ten percent in every country’s population and they are treated as persons who are unfortunate, cursed, and useless and therefore we need to change the thinking of the people by becoming an advocates of these group of people.
It is only through advocacy that the disabled people will gain self esteem and self courage to stand on their own feet, while on the other hand it will let the world know the truth that disabled people have a right to live and built their dream. Advocacy therefore has become an important task for any counsellors or for any Christian ministry and all the caring ministries must take up this ministry of advocacy as not being an advocate of differently able people but with a feeling as an advocating for God and by understanding, that an advocacy for Christians is an outworking of obedience to God, a desire for justice and compassion for others.