Written by Fred Ouko
He blogs at: http://ouko.wordpress.com/
By now, majority of Kenyans already know the song by Daddy Owen in collaboration with Denno (who is visually impaired) which has hit the chats in the recent times-Mbona?(see the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMvqSjdSJJw) Directly translated as Why?
This is one song that resonates with majority of persons with disabilities and their tribulations in Kenya and even beyond our borders and talks to the individual soul out there asking the hard question, why they discriminate their fellow Kenyan just because one is using an assistive device to move around i.e. wheelchair, white cane or crutches.
One is led to an illustration where a person on a wheelchair tries to board a bus but when the driver realizes that he is on wheelchair, he speeds-off leaving him at the stage not knowing what to do next yet what he only wanted was to travel from one point to another.
On Friday 21st September 2012, a very typical end of the weekday was not going to be any different, since it had been a busy week and unwinding with a friend wasn`t a bad idea normally at the ‘table of men’
I put a call to one of my close and ideologically radical friend we have grown together since discovering the worth our heads carry, and the agreement was that we meet at a restaurant he introduced me to and I ended up loving it because of its name; Seven Degrees !Isn`t it a cool name?
So it is 5pm and as usual for any Friday, all of us at the office are punctual to leave and from the 16th floor where our office is; we part ways with colleagues on the ground floor as everyone heads their way.
Anyone who sits on the ‘table of men’ will understand that 5pm is too early to begin sitting on this kind of tables!Cleverly,the plan is to buy time by exercising by walking to somewhere opposite Serena Hotel-Nairobi. Those who have know-how in health issues will confirm that this is actually beneficial to someone like me who suffered polio when I was two years old. Walking for some distance provides me the much-needed exercise to keep post-polio effects at bay.
Semi-officially dressed with a designer ‘Jakom’ cap, I set out to cross the busy Uhuru High Way towards the roundabout where it joins the road from Serena Hotel and given that at this time of the day, there was a heavy traffic on both roads made it easier for me to cross from any side of the road.
After looking both sides of the road as a former student of geography in high school, I spot a space between two cars, one of them a white Toyota Vitz. There are only two occupants in this car both seated in front and the driver is a Kenyan while on his left is an occupant of a European descent.
As I approached this car, both of the windows were open and when the driver spotted me advancing towards them to cross; he quickly switched the automatic car window to close but only on the side of the occupant and not his side. This is the moment that hit me as I clearly deciphered what his action meant. The driver had realized that there was a person in crutches passing and perhaps sensed that I would be a bother to his client. I asked myself, why is it this way? And this is when I remembered those tactful advocacy skills one learns through experience. I decided I will approach this particular driver closer to his window just to get an understanding of the action he had done.
You can guess, he was actually denying that he had done nothing but was only stuck in the traffic; this is when I took the responsibility of informing him what he had just done and what it meant. It was only fair that I give him my piece of mind to deter a repeat of the same in future. Even though I had rage in me of how belittling his action meant, I composed myself to speak with authority.
It was my turn to educate him that, not any person on crutches is a beggar or looking for alms. There was no way I was just going to be another ‘smart beggar’ in the eyes of this Vitz-driving man.Mr.why do you think that I am a beggar yet I have just come from my office where I manage a total of 12 staff?’ The environment Was actually ripe to pull one of those ‘you should know-people’ stance on his nose, but it was my choice to be civil so that he would respect me and have an opportunity to reflect on my words when he finally goes back to his family at night.
After delivering an advocacy package to this Vitz-driving mid-30`s guy, I decided that I would leave him with a parting shot just before the traffic cleared up. ‘It is wrong for you to think of me in that negative way, even without giving me any benefit of doubt. Remember I did not apply to be the way I am and here you are driving, how sure are you to reach home without an accident? If it happens to you, how will you feel if everyone sees you and thinks you are a beggar?’ This was my last pitch and I was damn sure, it was going to haunt him in the evening.
Yes, the traffic cleared and there he went and I also got into a car that took me to Seven Degrees! As we were negotiating traffic, another flashback resurfaced where five years ago, a watchman attempted to deny me entry to Simmers Restaurant on the account that I was going to beg while on this fateful evening, we had agreed with two of my female friends to meet at the restaurant for business discussions and I was the one in-charge of buying drinks for this particular meet-up. The watchman would hear none of this until I called them to my rescue; he later apologized after sensing that I was determined to notify the management.
In both of this incidents, one can imagine the kind of negative notions our society has against persons with disabilities; we are condemned without any hearing every other day while truly speaking and if one bothered to ask, I have the capacity of employing those in question or giving them freebies without feeling anything yet they are the lot that thought I was just another beggar who is smartly dressed.
It is high time we stopped generalizing that any person who is differently-abled is a beggar, having a disability doesn’t mean we are not capable of being productive members of the society. The last time I checked, there are no application forms so be very careful how you treat a person who is differently-abled, you can ask the person who confessed on TV that he never used to carry any person on a wheelchair when he was driving a PSV vehicle until he got an accident and lost the use of his limbs and was confined to a wheelchair himself.