I was having a conversation with a friend of mine and we were talking about the Kenyan roads and how fewer accidents have been reported in the recent past. This is a significant change from when we would see uncomfortable images of mangled up vehicles on the television almost every other night. I mentioned to my friend that I had once attended a road safety champaign hosted by NTSA and even got some tv time to talk about the importance of keeping our roads safe and the repercussions of not. I sat on this wheelchair after a road accident so I guess I was the perfect man for the job.
Our conversation naturally shifted from road safety to me being on TV. He was curious to know how it felt to be on national television and to command the audience of millions. I told him the truth; it was neither good nor bad.
The first interview I ever did was for a church television station in Nakuru. The crew was kind enough to come to my place and give me the platform to tell my story. It was the first time I was going to be in front of a camera. The show wasn’t even going to be live but it was still nerve-wracking, to say the least. As a writer, I always prefer writing to talking. I feel like I express myself better with pen and paper than with word of mouth. As the interview went on, however, I grew calmer and more confident. Everyone was pleased with the way the story was told.
After the second and third interview, a particular pattern began to reveal itself. The questions were always the same, my portrayal was always the same… The motive didn’t change either. After every interview, I would feel like my tragedy was the only thing that made me interesting or newsworthy. It was always about how I got the accident, where I was coming from, who died, what I had lost and the challenges of my new life… The script stayed the same.
The portrayal of people with disability in mainstream media and social media can sometimes be wanting. On the surface, you might not see anything wrong but upon looking closely from a disabled person’s perspective, you will see that majority of our stories are just quarries from which sadness is mined….never inspiration, just sad depressing stories.
Maybe this is exactly how we perceive people with disabilities in society; as people who have lost so much, that the only good thing they have going for them is the one bad thing that altered their lives. This is far from what we should be advocating for. What we need is to see stories of empowerment, tales of triumph and valour. People with disability need to be seen as more than what limits them. We have gifts and other beautiful things that we’d gladly share with the world if only you would give us the chance.
But here is the other challenge; how do you discern the difference between something that is inspirational and something that is just ordinary. If a paralyzed man works hard in his physiotherapy and learns to walk again, defying everything the doctors said, that’s inspirational. If the same man goes to church and sings like an angel, that’s ordinary. Everyone can sing, everyone can write and a chosen few can paint. Why then, do we amplify the ordinary things that people with disabilities do?
I have noticed that when a person with a disability does something that is outside of the stereotypes that have been set for them, it is deemed “inspirational”. I once paid a bill at a restaurant and I was showered with praises for being inspirational and defying the difficulties of my paralysis. It is hard not to get offended by utterances such as these because what that person is essentially saying is, I didn’t expect you to pay the bill because you are in a wheelchair but now that you have paid, I am so inspired. From Stairs To Ramps: Your Stereotypes Of Disabled People Are Hurtful
Maybe we as the disabled community share some blame in all this. We have bought into the narrative that being disabled means being defeated, weak and sad all the time. We don’t all need saving, some of us have been blessed to have enough; a roof over our heads, a hot meal, a warm bed to sleep in and a good support system. All that is left for us to do is to break the glass ceiling and become more than we were ever projected to become. We need to empower ourselves and author new scripts for our community.
Disabled people need to be allowed to tell their stories in entirety. Let us talk about the challenges we face but also stick around a bit longer to find out how we adapted and overcame. Ask us about the projects we have since embarked on. Enquire about the new hobbies we have picked along the way, lets us candidly interrogate dating after disability and the opportunities in employment and education. We don’t have to be sombre all the time.
If I ever get the opportunity to appear in a similar platform, I hope that the moderator will be more interested in topics other than the accident or how many people died in the crash. I am well aware that this is part of my story, I kinda wish it wasn’t the only part that people saw. Speaking of being seen, From Stairs To Ramps: Included But Excluded – When People Include You To Look Like They Care But It Is Just For Show