Call us by our names, please

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Each person has a name, and he or she is called by it. Or so we thought.

For persons with disability, this is not always the case.

In day-three of the ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ workshop yesterday, participants living with disability gave powerful and moving testimonies of having suffered discrimination of all sorts.

One such is name calling.

In many instances they have been called by ‘names’ relating to their impairment. If it’s not worse enough being called behind their backs, some have had it said to their face.

One, Mr Fred, who lives with visual impairment, shares that it is only in this workshop that he is being called “Fred”. Back, in his community he is simply called “Blind”, he says.

Another, Mr James, who is living with stature and speech impairment, shares that he used to be called “Bottle”, “Big-head” or “Short”.

Ms Marella, says sometimes people in her community even her relatives call her “Bend-leg” or “Short-girl”.

For Ms Ellena, a word in her local dialect meaning “leg that has been shortened” has been used by other people to call her by.

These are just four examples of the many testaments shared yesterday to insensitive and hurtful treatment participants have had to face in their lives – some still do.

Few say they are fortunate to have supportive families who do not put them through this or shield them from it. Others share that although their immediate families do not show them this cruelty, they receive it from relatives.

From public? Nearly all are victims to this cruel act.

One brave girl, living with a limb impairment [name withheld] tearfully recalls that her first encounter with the word “disable” was a one-time incident early in life with her father, who called her using this label. Although he later retracted his comments and apologised, having realised his mistake, this experience left its mark – this participant still painfully remembers it.

Yesterday, a segment in the workshop involved participants dividing into groups to discuss the topic ‘Respectful Language’.

From discussion results, the issue at the forefront is name-calling.

As with any non-disable person, our name is one of the things we hold dear in life. This is the same with persons living with disability.

“Please call me by my name” is the silent cry for each one. Not by labels pertaining to an impairment.

Dian Row, media and health promotion officer for the Ministry of Health (MHMS) partaking in discussions with participants living with hearing and speech impairment, later said:

“[In societies across the country, persons with disability are called by words with meaning that describes their impairment].

“For people living with speech and hearing impairment, they have names, they have real names including a surname. Some also have sign language names which they accept to be called with.”

Ms Row posed a challenging statement for non-disabled persons:

“You just imagine putting yourself in their shoes? What if it was you who was called by those [cruel labels]?

“What if you had hearing and speech impairment and were walking, and someone who wanted to get your attention, threw a pebble at you just to get you to look their way?

“You wouldn’t like it!”

Mr Jabesh Manaika, who is a programme presenter at the SIBC, and is living with visual impairment, speaking for his group, lays it out: Say the person’s name, followed by the impairment.

“You cannot say blind Jabesh, or blind Desmond, you say Desmond who is living with visual impairment.

“You cannot put ‘blind’ in front of the name, because this means ‘blind’ is my first name, making Jabesh my second, thus I no longer have a surname!”

Reflecting on the importance of family in protecting their children who are with a disability, Mrs Eileen Maetoloa-Akaramo shared how her family have taken it on themselves to stand with Jacineth, her third son, who is living with visual impairment.

“As Jacineth grew up, I told my first and second born sons, to stand with their brother.

“I am always by my son’s side because I worry a lot in case someone discriminates my son. I don’t want anyone to ridicule him. If anyone does, they will have to deal with me. I’ll stand there with him, I’m like his advocate.”

Underscoring the vital role family plays in support and awareness for persons with disability, Mr Desmond, who is living with visual impairment, establishes how it should be.

“Awareness and support for persons with disability should begin at the home, and from there go to the community, and from there to the top level [of authority].”

The undaunted Desmond shares that he has faced ridicule even from the likes of members of Parliament (MP).

“Honest, some honourable Members ridiculed me to the bottom of their level, but I remind them that my ballot is important, so please do not discriminate me, call me the right way. You are the one who should be helping me, that’s why I cast my vote, so don’t call me ‘blind con-man’ or ‘blind beggar’. No!

“Just call me Desmond or Desmond who is with visual impairment. In that way, I will feel in my heart who you are as my MP.”

Through the course of these sharing, one could not help but realise just how rife and far-reaching such discrimination and insensitivity is in our society.

This reinforces the idea that more of such workshops and similar awareness activities are needed.

“This workshop is an eye-opener for me. And, I believe it is time we who share this journey we stand together, we preach it in our homes, in our communities,” Mrs Maetoloa-Akaramo said during her reflection.

For Solomon Islands, the road is long and hard, but such activities as the ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ workshop are milestones which help hasten the country towards inclusiveness of persons with disability.

The four-day workshop is being run by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs through the Public Solicitor’s Office and People with Disability Solomon Islands (PWDSI).

The industrious Ms Naomi Tai of PWDSI, who is with a disability, is the facilitator, and is supported by UNDP’s Mr Jone and Ms Rashmi.

The workshop concludes on Friday at the Heritage Park Hotel conference hall.