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Call for change of attitude towards persons with disabilities

July 16, 2019

By Yusufu S. Bangura

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Participants at the workshop

Program Manager of Mental Health Coalition Sierra Leone (MHCSL), Joshua Abioseh Duncan, has called on Sierra Leoneans to change their attitude towards persons with disabilities, especially those suffering from mental illness.

He made the above call during a four-day training workshop held at 17 Bath Street Brookfields in Freetown.

The workshop was organized by Mental Health Coalition, University of Makeni and Christian Blind Mission (CBM) with the theme “Stand Up to Stigma for Mental Health.”

“I want us to change our attitude towards persons with disabilities in our society as they are very important people,” he said.

He said the objective of the workshop was to discuss the rights of persons with disabilities, which he said was explicitly defined in the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

He said the workshop looked at practical tools that promote and monitor inclusion of people with disabilities, provided facilitation method to build capacity of staff and other stakeholders and had a good insight of the concept of disability inclusive development.

The Program Manager continued that the aim of the training was to equip staff of the ‘stand up to stigma project’ and other stakeholders to understand disability inclusion from a right perspective in the work place and to make inclusion a reality.

He noted that for them at the Mental Health Coalition, their vision is to protect the human rights and dignity of people with mental health and  their families, provide non-discriminatory against person with mental illness and also provide high quality mental health care for all those who are in need.

He further stated that their mission is to raise awareness in partnership with other actors around the burden of mental illness in Sierra Leone, and campaign for increased national commitment to mental health.

He said people should not use discriminatory language to describe persons with disabilities like handicapped, cripple, mentally retarded, blind person and other words that would stigmatize them.

He concluded that they at the Mental Health Coalition would work with the Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI), CHASL and other partners to achieve their goals for persons with disabilities.

Disability Inclusion Advisor for West and Central Africa from Christian Blind Mission(CBM), Soumana Zamo, said disability inclusion is an awareness raising about how to change people’s  attitude towards persons with disabilities.

He said disability inclusion could help people identify barriers and challenges persons with disabilities face in the society.

He said their commitment was to make sure that they help their partners or different organizations they work with, and to help people understand what was happening with persons with disabilities.

He said the objectives of CBM includes meeting  expressed priority needs of persons with disabilities by addressing poverty and exclusion, to achieve socio-economic empowerment of individual persons with disabilities, their households and communities.

He added that they were also committed to developing community resilience in disaster prone regions and to change negative perceptions in society and contribute towards social inclusion.

He further stated that CBM is committed to being fully accountable to persons with disabilities, their families and representative organizations in all areas of their work.

He said CBM was established predominantly with the aim of collectively acting, expressing, promoting, pursuing and defending the rights of persons with disabilities.

He noted that over a billion of people, 15% of the world population, have  disabilities  and that it prevalence rate in developing countries was higher than developed countries-about 18%.

He said it would be important for people to recognize all models of disability as well as the weaknesses and strengths associated with each of them.

He said in several cases, CBM work with different partners and reflects a paradigm shift on the understanding of disability, stating that their activities have helped persons with disabilities that were considered helpless and outside normal society.

He said the Government of Sierra Leone should make provisions in whatever design and that they should have a plan for persons with disabilities.

 “I want the people of Sierra Leone to stand up to stigma against mental health, especially persons with disabilities as they also have the rights to enjoy anything that comes in the country,” he said.

Acting Program Manager of National Commission of Persons with disabilities, Tamba S.P Mondeh,said the training was an eye opening that set disable people on their toes, to ensure that they seek services in the right way and also make them understand some of the barriers they face in society and how they can overcome those barriers through policy reform.

He said as a disable person, he was happy to be part of the training and promised to enlighten his colleagues for them to know that they are important in society and should enjoy the services that government provides.

He said the 2015 housing and population census showed that there were 93,127 people living with disabilities in Sierra Leone, albeit it was disputed figure because it grossly underrepresented the number of persons with disabilities in the country.

 “It is not good to stigmatise persons with disabilities because we are very important people in society and we need to enjoy the same benefit like any other person,” he said.

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