By Bose ADELAJA
Disability is not a sickness, I am not ashamed to sit on this wheelchair to address this great audience. Nigerians should not relegate us to the background because persons with disabilities can live a productive life. Parents should not abandon children with disabilities because there is hope for them.’‘
These were the words of the newly crowned Grace Alathe, Ms Wheelchair Nigeria 2010. She beat several other beauty ladies on wheel chair to win the coveted crown.
The event which took place at Welcome Hotels Centre along the Murtala Mohammed International Airport road drew people from all walks of life who came to felicitate with persons living with disabilities and those on wheelchairs in particular.
It was a night where disability was celebrated amidst pomp and pageantry. Indeed, it was an epoch-making event aimed at changing the mind-set of Nigerians towards this group of people. Many of them were professionals in their various fields of human endeavour who have contributed their own quota towards the development of Nigeria.
For instance, the President of Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Centre (MAARDEC), Mr. Cosmos Okoli, has substantially improved the standard of living of over 1.7 million Nigerians with disabilities and in the process, spent less than five per cent of what the government would have spent to achieve the same goal.
In spite of her disability, one of the participants, Miss Abimbola Adedayo who represented Oyo State said she has been an international business woman for several years. She has travelled to different parts of the world while the overall winner Grace Alathe has been a role model to about 60 children in Jos, the capital of Plateau State.
At the event, the overall winner who represented Enugu State went home with a brand new Rough Rider wheelchair with other prizes while the first runner-up Yvounne Pamgack from Plataeu and 14 other finalists also received bountiful prizes from MAARDEC who organised the event.
The 31-year old Alathe who is studying English Language at the Open University of Nigeria told the congregation how no fewer than 60 Nigerian children have benefitted immensely from her ‘’Experience Grace Foundation’‘, a vision to cater for the health, education and creativity of infants in Plateau State.
Alathe is a gospel artiste with three albums to her credit. These are ‘’Dearest friend, E go happen and Experience great’‘.
In a chat with Vanguard Metro, she said the contest was a great one as it created the platform to celebrate persons with disabilities. ‘’It was a grand event and a good platform to have a voice to express myself and pass across a message.
It was a massive re-orientation because so many people have misrepresented our interest, a lot of us have been maginalised. If many of us have the same opportunities that our able bodied counterparts have, we would have become achievers, functional, productive and providers rather than beggars or dependants,’‘ she said.
According to her, she wanted to use the platform to fight for the right of her colleagues all over Nigeria. ‘’I am a role model to a lot of children; I have discovered that a lot of problems we are facing usually come from our parents. I shall use both the print and electronic media to educate them so that they can give enough support to their wards,’‘she stated.
The second runner up Yvounne Pamgack from Plataeu State said she was satisfied with the development. ‘’It does not matter who owns the crown, what matters is that we need somebody to speak on our behalf, somebody to set a platform for our voice to be heard. Persons with disabilities are not heard and nobody cares if we survive but I am glad that this medium will change a lot of things in our society. I am still the winner; it is not about winning but to raise a voice for us. Grace Alathe is my friend for about two years and I am ready to support her effort,’‘ she said.
The 35-year-old Abimbola Adedayo who represented Oyo State also had this to say about the event. ‘’The event was an eye opener to the whole nation and I am glad we have been able to raise a voice who can speak on our behalf’‘.
In his address, Mr Okoli urged Nigerians to encourage people with disabilities. ‘’Of all the disadvantages suffered by persons with disabilities in our society, none is as painful as that of exclusion. Half of a century after our independence, several beauty pageants have been instituted with the exclusion of Nigerians with disabilities. Even in this era of uncountable and lucrative reality TV shows, dancing competitions and talents contests, Nigerians with disabilities are conspicuously excluded from showcasing their talents and benefitting financially like the rest of society.
‘’It is quite unfortunate that some in our society continue to hold to ill founded and unfair stereotypes about persons with disabilities. Some of them discourage us overtly and covertly by saying that a beauty pageant is the least of what persons with disabilities need now. I represent a new breed of Nigerians with disabilities. All our contestants tonight are ambassadors of this new breed.
They are far from being beggars. In their ranks are processionals; lawyers, pharmacists, accountants, bankers, insurers, businesswomen and happily married mothers. They all share a common heritage of rising above disability to live full and productive lives,’‘ he added.