While status and treatment of persons with PWD has improved the remnants of traditional beliefs still persist in some parts of the world. Ignorance, neglect, superstition and fear have exacerbated isolation of this vulnerable group.
A society’s culture and belief plays an important role in forming the perception of nearly every phenomenon.
In ancient and early medieval times, disability was considered to be a sign of bad luck, either a punishment for wrong deed or a curse from witchcraft. these ideas have persisted later in developing countries.
In Eritrean society, negative perceptions are the main obstacle that block disabled people from enjoying their socio-economic rights. The attitudes from their surroundings is victimizing them again and again. These beliefs emanate from centuries of oral tradition and views emanating from traditional religions.
Most Eritrean families who have disabled children don’t accept the fact that they have such problems of believe that they are cursed by God and they don’t do much to improve the livelihood of their disabled loved ones. They try to hide them from the community because they don’t want them to be insulted or feel inferior.
Another challenge is the fact that people believe that PWD cannot perform any activities as ordinary people.
As in other East African communities, integration into communal life relates to how well individuals fit within the social norms and, importantly, if they can do their share in the community, wether or not they have disablity defined by the developed world.
In east African tribes such as the Maasai, Abagussi and Nandi of Kenya, they see PWD as “abnormal” if they are unable to carry out their daily activities.
They consider them as individuals who don”t contribute to the family let alone society. People who cannot contribute to society cannot contribute to the development of a nation . However its not because they dont have the ability but they dont have the means to.
Solution can only emerse by raising awarness of the causes of disablity. when people now the exact cause of disablity the negative attitudes could be minimized.
modern medicine has since proven the scientific causes of disablities,which are plenty. congenital cataract and primary infantile glaucoma are one of the reasons for inherited blindness. Mental retardation is the result of microcephaly or when there is no disjunction during cell division in the embryo. Autism spectrum disorders happen due to a neuro-developmental disorder. There fore, these conditions can happen to anyone at any time.
These medical discoveries have been the first step in changing the attitude towards PWD and efforts to improve their lives. In Eritrea for instance,the government has been struggling hard to end negative beliefs and harmful societal practices since independence.
These unparalleled efforts carried out for the wellbeing of the disabled have been a collaborated effort of four associations under the auspices of the government, including the National Association of the Blind, the National Association of the Deaf, the National Association of the Mentally and Developmentally Impaired and the Eritrean National War-disabled Veterans Association.
Schools have been established for the visually impaired, hearing impaired, as well as for those with autisim and Downs Syndrome. Schools are offering effective services to the children, but with the remnants of those negative attitudes, there still exist a challenge. Cultural beliefs and values also play a critical role in how families and educational programs interact.
Guided cultural beliefs may interfere with family participation in programs whereas understanding beliefs can facilitate trust between families and educational programs. Taking this into consideration, the four PWD associations are working hard to halt those cultural barriers. By developing the interaction between families and educational institutions as well as health centers and charity fairs a better solution can be found in order to minimize the negative beliefs on disabled citizens.
The programs of the government focus not only on education but also on how the PWD can acquire skills and techniques that can bring behavioral changes. This can help on their social and economic life. The Abrha Bahta School for the Blind which provides music and art courses besides the academic training is a good example. Some disabled children who were educated in this school got the opportunity to join colleges and have been able to work in any institutions.
The case of Eritrea has shown that continuous campaigning and education can change negative attitudes and harmful practices towards the disabled.
Taking this into consideration, we can inform our society about those facts so as to treat disabled citizens in a better way. The most important agents who can raise public awareness are schools, hospitals, organizations and mainly the government. The awareness should start from every single family. Though the main target are all disabled citizens; some of those who live in rural and remote areas are still suffering from isolation of their community as well as shortage of social services. At the same time, there are no educational programs that represent them. disabled people can be productive citizens as long as negative values are terminated and the word disablity is changed to ability.