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VAS

Name, shame those who demean disabled

COMMENTARY
By | August 15th 2009

By Phitalis Were Masakhwe

The more things change the more they remain the same. While some people think the world is making commendable strides in the way disabled people are viewed and treated, some folks still think they should not be allowed to patronise certain places.

The notion that almost all disabled people are beggars has stubbornly persisted. However, even poor people have inherent dignity and respect.

The new UN treaty on disability rights unambiguously affirms the principle of non-discrimination. This is further reinforced in the Persons with Disability Act 2003.

But last week’s incident at a leading Nairobi hotel is truly a drawback and an affront on the domestic and international law. Such like incidents and practices must be exposed and those responsible shamed to serve as a lesson to others with such mindset.

A prominent lawyer and member of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities Mr Kibaya Laibuta, who is visually impaired, took off work for sauna at a city health club, last week. Naturally, he was thirsty. He headed for the Six Eighty Hotel for a quick drink. Little did he know shock awaited him right at the hallway in full view of guests checking in and out of the hotel.

"I was confronted by two guards, male and female, who asked my driver/guide where he was taking me. He told them to speak to me. I asked them what the issue was. Barring my way, I was informed I was not to be allowed in unless I was checking in the hotel. I said I wasn’t and sought to know since when it became a residents’ only hotel.

The final word was that I should leave. I stormed out but returned on second thought. I went straight to the reception desk and demanded an explanation from scared receptionists who called a supervisor.

I demanded to speak to the manager and he came quickly as lightning. He knew me. Questioned, the guard explained he thought I was a beggar. People around were transfixed and the scene was unpleasant. My fury blended with profuse apologies from the manager and staff," explained Laibuta.

So did my friend have his drink? "No, not at the Six Eighty. The humiliation was too much to bear. I kept on wondering what makes a beggar: loss of sight? There are times I prefer an assault on the body than on our dignity," he says.

The incident at the hotel characterises the life of most disabled people. Blind people are treated badly in banks where tellers prefer to talk to their guides maybe thinking that because one is blind, he or she can’t also hear. In restaurants, the server asks the guide how much sugar the blind patron uses or whether he uses sugar at all instead of directly asking the visually impaired fellow.

Disabled people who frequent social places encounter all sorts of embarrassment. When they march to the dancing floor in a discotheque, many a times other patrons leave the place thinking they will cause the person to fall and "aggravate the situation".

Degradation

They forget that like everybody else, disabled people enjoy music and dancing.

When they appear in a bar, those serving in most cases ask them which soda they will take instead of giving disabled patrons a chance to make an order of their choice: why soda, why not a beer? Who said disabled must only take a soda or soft drink?

Pregnant disabled women have suffered the greatest degrading treatment in the hands of the very people who are supposed to help them. Health professionals have been heard wondering aloud, "Who made this one pregnant?" Is it a sin for disabled women to enjoy sex, or conceive and bear children for that matter?

Yours truly has not been spared either. I was once confronted by servers in nightclub and asked what I was doing there — meaning I should have been asleep and maybe praying and not enjoying myself.

Examples of misconceptions regarding disabled people are many and painful. Disabled people’s organisations should go back to the drawing board and summon the best skills and tack on how to change this dim-witted scenario. But the best weapon is to speak out and daringly tackle the ill treatment.

—The writer ([email protected]) is a sociologist with a physical disability.

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