Perception of people with disabilities
People in my community and country have very negative perceptions about people with disabilities. It is erroneously believed that they are always looking for someone to help them; they cannot sustain themselves; cannot work, neither do they want to work because they prefer to be dependent on others. I want this perception to change and as a person living with a disability, I am determined to be the change I want to see. It all starts with me as a person. How I conduct myself, present myself to people and interact with them. How I make myself be inclusive and take the opportunities that are available. Positive perceptions about people living with disabilities should start with us.
Growing up in my community
It was difficult living in my community because people with disabiities were not a common sight. If I look around my neighborhood now, I think I’m the only person living with a disability so you can imagine how people would stare when I’m walking along the streets. Some would run away from me because I’m different from them.
Growing up with a disability had numerous challenges because there were not many people who were willing to interact with me. Myths also perpetuated this. Some believe if you interact with a person living with a disability, you will eventually have a disability yourself, or you’ll give birth to a child with a disability.
Opportunities to educate
My own situation has given me an opportunity to educate people. I’ve taken it upon myself to use my voice to help others understand people with disabilities and how to accommodate them in every sphere of life. We may be different in some ways, but we are human with emotions just like any other person.
I’m often told that I’m a source of inspiration to others. When I receive feedback from people, I am motivated because this is a clear indication that I am on the right path. My life is a lesson to many, and I feel honoured to be able to change perceptions about people with disabilities through the way that I live my life.
In my job as a social worker with the Social Affairs Department, I interact daily with people from different age groups and backgrounds. And, I use myself as an example when highlighting certain issues.
Acceptance is important
As a person living with a disability, it is important to accept your condition. It all starts there. Acceptance has helped me. I had to acknowledge that I could not change my physical being but there was a lot I can do with my abilities. When you’ve accepted what is, you should then start discovering your potential. What are you good at? You are a person with a disability, but there is something you are good at! Really pay attention to what you can do, and you’ll find that when you enjoy what you are doing, sometimes you will forget that you have a disability.
It is important to pay attention to yourself. Accept yourself. Nurture your abilities.
I like to say to say my disability is my strength.
I wasn’t always this self-confident. It took several years to get here. My family made it easier for me to get to that stage. Growing up, my parents ensured that I did not see myself as being different from my siblings. That really helped me a lot, but I attended special needs primary and high school with other children with disabilities. My self-esteem challenges really emerged at college when I had entered another environment where I had to interact with students without disabilities. For a while, I had no friends. I would walk straight from the lecture theatre back to my room. I didn’t know how I would ever be able to fit into the new environment.
Because my parents and siblings never made me feel that I was different, I pulled on that knowledge while in college and gathered myself together! Frequent self-talks helped where I reminded myself that I always had this dream of furthering my studies. There were no universities in my country that catered only to students with disabilities, so I had to learn how to exist in this new environment. And I did. I eventually made many friends who were very supportive.
I was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta so I use crutches and can’t easily access staircases. My bones are soft, so I must be constantly mindful of where I’m stepping so I don’t slip and fall. I fracture easily and these are very painful.
I’m short in stature so I need to be around someone to help me get things that are positioned higher than I can reach.
It’s a challenge to have romantic relationships because of my disability. In my culture, interabled relationships are not common.
My greatest accomplishment to date
Obtaining my bachelor’s degree has been my biggest achievement. It has always been one of my major dreams that I would graduate from a university one day. I graduated in 2021 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Development Studies with Sociology. I am very proud of this achievement.
I am actively involved in disability advocacy. Currently, I serve as a board member of the Women and Girls with Disabilities Rights of Zambia and was recently appointed to the National Executive for Women and Girls with Disabilities. I am invited to give inspirational talks at schools including two special schools in my hometown.
Challenges of people living with disabilities in my country
People with disabilities are not empowered so their disability challenges are multiplied, and they remain dependent on others. Few attain higher education. Literacy levels must be improved.
Those who live in rural areas of the country face additional challenges. Distance is an issue in terms of getting to health care facilities and accessing a basic need like water. Many do not have running water in their homes so wheelchair users, for instance – how can they travel long distances to get to water?
The government helps to a certain extent, but I think more should be done because the percentage of people living with disabilities is increasing. I believe that the private sector should also be involved in the process of helping to make the lives of people with disabilities easier.