A few years ago, Chimamanda Adichie, the famous Nigerian novelist delivered the TEDx talk ‘Dangers of A Single Story’, which made emphasis on misconceptions about Africa. It had been particularly embarrassing when on one of her undergraduate days, a lecture led to a talk on Namibia and everyone in the class turned to look at her, despite the fact that she had never been to Namibia and had no idea about what the country looked like. She was sorry to express her worries that Africa was seen as a country and not as a continent. When watching the talk, I quickly agreed with her because I had seen a screenshot post of a Ghanaian friend- who happens to be an African political analyst- that got me pissed off. It was a terrible mistake done by one of the globally leading news TV channel, where they mapped countries and also mapped Africa! Now it wouldn’t be so bad if what they mapped was for good, but no, it wasn’t- the ‘country’ called Africa was mapped among the most corrupt countries. Imagine!

In the talk Chimamanda underscored that the problem of single stories is not that they are not true, but incomplete! Mass communication that directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally engineers minds into having wrong impressions can be dangerous. With the coming to be of ICT, wrong or incomplete information circulate quickly, giving birth to misconceptions and even more harmful effects.

During the outburst of the Ebola epidemic, one of the challenges the World Health Organization(WHO)  and other stakeholder bodies faced was curtailing the spread of wrong information about the disease alongside fighting the spread of the disease itself. There were a lot of frightening information flying around, especially on social media, which far outnumbered countering educative jingles. How information about diseases need to be communicated is well explained in ‘Effective Communication for Healthy Outcomes’- one of the 15 YALI free courses we all need to take.

Some years ago I was in Netherlands for a course ‘Producing Media to Counter Radicalization’, this year I am hoping to join the fellowship on ‘Media Campaigns for Social Change and Development.’ There is a need for all facets of the society to be involved in communication for social good.

I was at an ‘Ability-in-Disability Conference’ where a crippled said emphatically, “Churches are one of our problems!” I couldn’t imagine anyone saying that. It felt like blasphemy to me. Unfortunately, that is how most of us have been programmed- to think that religious affairs should not be analyzed because religion is about God. But religious organizations are no islands. Their actions must consider social implications as well as take into consideration other aspects of life and society. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-religion or hater of any institution. I’m only trying to see how emotional intelligence can be included in our actions and incorporated into our traditional value systems for the social and emotional well-being of others.

The man further explained that physically-challenged people are often looked at as desperate people needing ‘miracle’ or ‘deliverance’ when there is nothing wrong with them. He affirmed that in their challenged states, a number of them are smarter and more industrious than most ‘able’ persons. Meanwhile, most of these churches are not built or modeled to accommodate the movement or understanding of disabled persons, so in true sense, their empathy is not logically genuine. He also said that in a university that has severally been ranked as the best in the country, the Department of Special Education is situated on the second floor the faculty building, decrying that institutions which claim to find solutions to problems of disabled persons often do so with so much noise and less consideration for their subjects.

Now, where my concern lies is how information about or attitude towards those who might need help or easier life is not properly managed. When respected institutions are rather presenting people who may need a less challenging life as people with problems, they pass misconstruing messages about these people to those who believe in them. This is often unintentional as those involved are mostly unaware of the orientations they spread. However, their ignorance does not prevent the fact that their actions must produce results.

Just as Chimamanda’s course mates turned to her when something was said about Namibia, this crippled said, he is often embarrassed by the looks of people whenever there is a call for people who needed ‘deliverance’, or ‘miracle’, or ‘special prayers’. He said he would often not signify that he needed such because in most cases, he too spotted the pastors or other members of the congregation on medicated lenses who thought they were not challenged, but that uninvited ‘ushers’ would make attempts to push his wheel chair to the front of the altar without his consent. He narrated that not only have churches largely contributed to engineering minds into thinking that disabled people have a problem, they have also created low self-esteem and ignited hatred for self among these people, narrating how one blind young man who constantly went to churches for miracle finally committed suicide when he never got it.

There is nothing wrong with people receiving transformation- I believe that God heals- but without it, challenged people can still be happy people. Making them believe that they are being tormented or are not supposed to be that way affects their psyche and demoralizes them- one blind lady said it was even the pity and incitements she received from others that weighed her down and not her own thought of her condition. It is often the struggle with the orientation that the society passes: that they are not well or normal and therefore need to be delivered that gets them into depression and worse cases. the situation is not only peculiar to physically challenged people. Even those facing health, financial and career challenges face the same alongside those who are yet to be married or  no have children, anchoring on traditional believes which insinuate their incompleteness and tell how much of a problem them have. Here our traditional institutions also default. Therefore it is imperative that actions that fuel such thoughts directly or indirectly be avoided, rather, these people can be encouraged and advised on how they can live happily in their conditions.

Institutions that influence norms about challenging conditions therefore have a role to play. The health sector is doing their best to educate the public on how people with some sicknesses should not be discriminated and how their conditions can be managed. Will other institutions join the train?

Are those who might need a change of physical, health, marital or financial status to be seen as people with problems? Must they or others be made to believe that they can’t lead normal lives without acquiring these changes? If these challenges are being propagated as problems, then shouldn’t these ‘solution-giving’ institutions provide ready and on-the-spot solutions to as many as have these ‘problems’? Do these institutions take into cognizance that some people are not in need or do not deem it necessary to get these solutions?- In other words they are comfortable in their states for reasons known to them or can appropriately manage their conditions? Shouldn’t they also respect these preferences and not make generalizations?

In conclusion, public opinions usually emanate from sources and are often initiated by the injection of unwholesome believes from well-respected institutions. Whether intentional or unintentional, sources of information must weigh their direct and indirect communication to ensure that they lead to social good.


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