My experiences with people with disabilities. Why are we so uncomfortable around them?

Moments of Kindness Growing up,I was always uncomfortable with people with disabilities. I would surreptitiously stare at them and turn away quickly when they caught me staring. I always wondered how tough their life was (make no mistake, it is a tough life). I cannot forget two encounters with people with disabilities. they changed my life forever and made me respect and appreciate them.

First encounter
2006- In my final year at the university, I was transferred to a new dorm. My next door neighbours included the cutest girl who used leg braces and crutches. Everyone treated her like an egg, so I did too. I felt so nervous around her because I was not sure how to address her. I always wanted to ask whether she was born that way or acquired it through an accident but I Knew asking was out-of-place (in English, none of my business). One evening, I walked to the gate leading into my dorm(which was a good 10 minutes walk) to order some ‘Meshai'(bread and egg prepared in a special way) and there she was. She had been dropped off by a male colleague because males were not allowed into the hostel after seven p.m. We struck up a conversation and for the first time, I began to see her not as that crippled girl next door whom everyone doted on, but a free-spirited girl with a mind of her own.
After our orders were done, we began to walk back. It was at a very slow place because I had to walk beside her. I got so bored that I blurted out without thinking “We would reach the hostel faster if I were to carry you”. Shit! I was so angry with myself for saying that and I was sure I had offended her. I turned to look at her and on her face was this big grin. She outstretched her hands. I then asked ‘For real?’. She let out a hearty laugh and said ‘Before?’. Me and My big mouth then carried her (once upon a time I used to be quite strong(feels like a lifetime ago) all the way to the hostel. It felt really nice.

That was the beginning of our friendship. I treated her like any normal girl and she really appreciated it. I remember yelling across the hall for her to come to my room. She would yell back that she doesn’t have her legs(that’s what she called her braces) on, that I should come over. I would respond, ‘Naaaa! I called first’ She would eventually come complaining that I was mean, and I did not sympathize with her conditions. I would point to my robust cheeks or big belly and say we all had conditions. People were astounded at how lightly I took her disability, but I realised she didn’t want to be treated like an egg. I never saw her again after school. I miss her.

The second encounter came 5 years later in 2011, during my Masters program in the University of Lagos. It was examination day and I had a paper for 12 p.m. I left my home at 8 a.m to beat the traffic and to get some last-minute reading done. There I was, trying to board a bus when I spot a man on crutches. That would not have been a big deal but I realised he was also blind. I wondered where this blind crippled man could be going all on his own without any helper. It seemed suicidal. All the bus conductors were yelling out their stops and when he heard his stop, he approached them and they just told him no. I struggled within myself on the right step to take. I had exams in 4 hours. I needed to revise. Still undecided, I approached him and asked where he was going. He mentioned a disability facilities at Yaba(I can’t recall if it is for eyes or for legs). I enquired why he didn’t take a taxi. He said he could not afford a taxi. I had some extra money on me, but it won’t be enough for a taxi either. I then asked what on earth would he be travelling alone when he can’t see. He smiled and said there was no one to take him and he couldn’t miss his appointment. Since his route was somewhat the same as mine, I decided to take him as far as I could.

Now, We needed to take 2 buses to get to the point where our paths would end. The first bus would take us from the point of entry to a place called Oyinbo, which was roughly 25 minutes without traffic. (There is always traffic, I estimated an hour). However, not a single bus agreed to take us. They would slow down for me and as soon as they saw me approaching with the man, the conductor would either hit the top of his vehicle signaling to the driver to move on or he would just say No. I was getting frustrated after 5 buses rejected us. Then I decided to split the journey. We would take a smaller bus to a bus park (named Mile 2) which would, in a sane place that is not Lagos, take 5 minutes. There, we would get empty buses heading to Oyinbo.He would have ample time to board the empty buses, without the conductors rushing him. We eventually got a smaller bus to stop for us. The conductor seemed very reluctant to take us, until I told him I would pay him extra. He suddenly became nice and helped the man into the vehicle.

8.53 a.m We got to the larger park at Mile 2 and there were several large buses all lined up waiting. To my dismay and frustration, they were refusing to allow him in. Some looked furious when they said no. Others looked sad and regretful, but they all still said No. At this point, I began to wonder at the incredible wickedness of the human heart. One would think I was travelling with a leprosy patient or a gorilla. At a point, I got angry. It was 9.25a.m. I was sweating profusely. Did I mention I was angry? I went to look for a police officer. I explained the situation to him. He nodded and followed me back and ordered one of the buses to take us. I was beyond upset that we needed to get a police officer for people to do the right thing.

10.45a.m After over an hour in traffic in what should have been a 20 minute drive, we finally got to Oyinbo. At this point, I decided I was going to put him in a taxi with the money I had left(since we were now closer to his destination) and get one of my colleagues to loan me money to get back home. Unfortunately, we were in the part of the park where taxis are not allowed to operate. Just commercial motorcycles and rickshaws. And again they were being difficult or charging really exorbitant rates. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I solicited the help of some of the local women selling their wares. They were beyond amazed that I was doing all this for a stranger and all chipped in to help us. One gave him a seat while we were negotiating and another gave me a sachet of water.(God bless them)
Finally we got a motorcyclist who asked for triple the cost to take him there. He was cheaper than the others, so I gave him the money. At this stage, I was ready to leave but for some reason, I could not trust the motorcyclist. So I decided at the spur of the moment to ensure that he delivered the man to the right destination. I went with them in another motorcycle. He got there safely. He was so thankful and grateful but at that moment, my mind was on my exams. I was running extremely late. I didn’t ask for his details and he didn’t ask for mine. I never saw him again……I never even asked him his name…..(Yes I made it to the exam with less than 10 minutes to spare and no time for revision, except the little I had done during the traffic. I got a B in that paper, so God looks after his children)

Many people are very uncomfortable around disabled people. For some, it is difficult to know how to relate to them. Do you treat them the way you treat normal people? For others, it is guilt related. I am normal and I am feeling so bad about my life, how would he(the disabled) be coping?. Others just feel helpless that they wish they could do something for them. Whatever the reason, we feel uncomfortable around them. I am no expert on dealing with people with disabilities because like normal people, their reactions at your approach would differ. But It is my opinion that they appreciate a little normalcy just like the rest of us.
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Please share with me your experiences with the people with disabilities.

25 Comments

  1. lemme give you a few insights on ‘disabled’-i prefer the terms ‘differently abled’ people
    1. They are ‘normal’ people.You just need to see them as people and not as their disabilities.
    2. Emphatise with them but please minimize the sympathy.It can be annoying
    3.Offer to help them when you see them struggling with things. Asking ‘How can I help you’? is a good start.
    4. Be there, don’t play avoidance.
    5.If you are curious, ask questions. They’ll be glad you did and you’ll be better informed.

    Sorry for the epistle.

  2. What a heart ouching Article.I started respecting people with disability when a popular disabled Guy named UCHE who is an electonics engineer and very popular In Ago-Okota Axis of Lagos..He is so hardworking and married with 2 Kids..I marvel @ d way he never allows to be bullied and I encourage all those born/living with disabilty to brace up..

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