Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: And On a Lighter Note

opinion

We are made to believe from conventional wisdom that persons with disabilities are so burdened and weighed down by disability that they sit around , mope around, and bemoan their fate all day.

This is far from true. Attitudinal and architectural barrier which lead to social and economic exclusion which persons with disabilities surfer in Nigeria is far more devastating than the primary disability.

Here lies the real pain of disability and not the disability itself. Remove social and economic exclusion, disability becomes a light burden. Little wonder when persons with disabilities are together among themselves or with close friends or acquaintances, they exhibit high sense of humor and can make you laugh your head off.

It is a misconception in the first place to assume that persons with disabilities are unhappy. First and foremost, they are human beings and like everyone else are exposed to the vicissitudes of life that affects their moods. Persons with disabilities like to socialize like everybody else.

We like to go to night clubs, go to parties, watch sports, play games with friends, travel locally and internationally, go on outings with family, friends and significant others, shop at supermarkets, attend weddings, attend church services etc. Disability does not deter one from expressing oneself and having fun, but social and economic exclusion do.

In my early years, as one of the pioneer disabled national wheelchair table tennis players, it was not uncommon to boast to one's opponent that you would drill them so hard during a competition that they would fall off their wheelchair in submission to one's supremacy!

Indeed, when you are playing, and you manage to cause your opponent to fall off his/her wheelchair, you do have a good laugh and celebrate that feat especially if that opponent is your match. There is nothing callous about this; it is part of the fun.

When I started to use wheelchair, I did not know how to do wheelie. A 'WHEELIE' is a pronounced and sustained lift of the two smaller front wheels of a wheelchair and balancing a wheelchair on only the two rear tyres.

Doing a wheelie can aid a wheelchair user's descent on a conventional staircase unaided; descend a ramp with ease or it can make you a formidable dancer on the dance floor at a party! (See photograph of me dancing on my wheelchair) Learning to do the wheelie is really hard work.

When I saw friends do wheelie for the first time, I thought it was taking a stroll in the park. Tilting the wheelchair is not the be-all-and-end-all of executing a wheelie; you have to hold it steady, control it, move about or spin around. So one beautiful summer morning, while in UK for the World Stoke Manndeville Wheelchair games in 1987, my friends and I were strolling along paved walk way to a friend's house in Aylesbury, we got to the end of the elevated walk way where there was no ramp which was very unusual, my friends who are veteran wheelchair users effortlessly used wheelie to go down the paved walkway, on getting to the point, having observed how they did it, I tried to do same with severe consequence. I somersaulted and hurt myself badly.

I then made up my mind to learn the art when we returned to Nigeria. I fell several times before I could master the art! And each time I fell, my friend burst out into laughter at my embarrassing falls! It was fun, the teasing did not bother me and I learnt real fast. I soon mastered the wheelie and the teasing stopped. The wheelie is not for the faint- hearted. You must have the upper body strength and strong arms to be able to execute it.

Persons with disabilities are often known for teasing their peers. Those of us that can manage to move about without leg braces/calipers or crutches often brag to those that cannot, calling them, 'complete disabled'; referring to themselves as 'partially disabled' or 'half disabled'. In response, the other party usually refers to the former as 'fake disabled'. All of this teasing is all in fun and joke. A golden rule of all this teasing is: Everything is funny, only in fun; and on a lighter note.

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