Tonya Wright-Hamilton , Guest Columnist
Have you ever noticed that when a person is approached by another individual in a wheelchair, they do one of three things? Give the person more space than is needed to pass; try not to make eye contact; or wait patiently to see if the person in the wheelchair would miraculously stand and start attacking them for no reason.
It's amazing how people fear the chair.
In having a discussion with my husband, who is a paraplegic and requires a wheelchair to get around, it apparently gets worse when participating in a job interview. Apparently, and according to him, when people realise that you have a disability, they sometimes instantly shut down and deny you the opportunity to prove your worth, or they speak to you as if you were born stupid.
Of course, they go through the usual interview questions such as: "Where do you see yourself in five years?" or "What do you consider to be your weaknesses and strengths?" Obviously, they are just simply being polite.
However, my husband wonders why they don't ask the real questions they're dying to ask, such as: "Did you bathe on your own this morning?" or "How did you get here?" or "Can your body take working late hours or the rigorous joys of hard labour?"
To him, those questions would make the interview meaningful and much more interesting. In fact, those are the questions that will make a difference on whether he gets the job, because now the employer has something that will allow him to understand the level of my husband's situation.
I can't lie, though, if I were a person who was physically challenged, I, too, would want to miraculously stand up and take the wheelchair and beat someone with it because of their apparent ignorance, but at the end of the day it is better to educate than inflict violence, isn't it?
Senator Floyd Morris, the first blind person appointed to the Upper House in the Jamaican Parliament, said, "It is often said that the way a society treats its elderly and disabled is an indication of its level of development and civilisation. All societies should aspire to have mechanisms to take care of these vulnerable groups."
If I were to make an assumption, I would assume that approximately 75 per cent of our society is well educated and lives within the working- to middle-class level of the economy. But the majority of us are still ignorant of the words of Senator Morris' statement.
Why? Why do we fear the chair? Especially with the heavy influence of the West and European countries, why do we still fear the chair? Does the chair have some sort of secret powers that we feel will hold us spellbound and cause us to do what the operator wants us to do?
When touched, will our hands end up with boils or sores because we were badly burnt? Is the wheelchair such a dangerous weapon of mass destruction that allowing the 'handler' to be gainfully employed will cause the society to disintegrate right before our eyes! I doubt that.
But we treat it that way. We treat people who are physically challenged as if they were the plague. We believe that they are unable to perform in any capacity within our society.
According to the website Disabled World: World Facts and Statistics on Disabilities and Disabilities Issues: "Disability affects hundreds of millions of families in developing countries. Currently, around 10 per cent of the total world's population, or roughly 650 million people, live with a disability."
Therefore, why is it that in beautiful Jamaica, of which the population is 2.7 million, we have persons living with a disability (including children) and we still have not given them equal opportunities.
It is time to change the mindless thought that disability is a punishment for wrongdoing, obeah or 'guzu', evil spirits, ghosts or duppies. Our times have changed. We now live in a modern society where people who are challenged physically are driving cars, flying planes and creating amazing forms of technology to propel us into a future where life, hopefully, would be much simpler.
The great Marcus Garvey once said, "Chance has never yet satisfied the hope of a suffering people." Therefore, why should we leave it up to 'chance' for people who are physically challenged to get a fair opportunity of employment and a fulfilled life?
Tonya Wright-Hamilton is a freelance communicator with an MSc in business management. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.