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‘How I defied polio to achieve my dream’

Uzoamaka Anita Asiegbu is a disability advocate, creative writer and a communications strategist. She is the founder of Write Hand Hub, a platform for freelance…

Uzoamaka Anita Asiegbu is a disability advocate, creative writer and a communications strategist.

She is the founder of Write Hand Hub, a platform for freelance writing.

Asiegbu is the founder of Disabilities Opportunities, an outlet promoting inclusive opportunities through the sharing of opportunities for persons living with disabilities.

With various Panel discussions, media interviews, and articles publications to her credit, Asiegbu has continually sought for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the society.

She writes for a disability magazine ‘Qualitative Magazine.’

Presently, Asiegbu is the President of the March/April cohort of the Creative Youth Bootcamp 2020 powered by the Street Project Foundation.

In this interview, she talks about living with disability and how her love for books, which birthed the ‘Write Hand Hub’, has helped her escape the discriminatory comments, questions and stares of people.

What inspired your writing career?

I’ve always had a passion for reading. As a child living with disabilities, books helped me escape the discriminatory comments, questions and stares of people.

Along the line, I felt the need to share my own imaginations and ideas with others too. And I began scribbling and putting down my thoughts and ideas from then.

After a degree in English Language and Literature from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, I realised that like me, there are others who have ideas to share too, and not just in fiction, but generally in life.

However, the majority of these people neither have the time nor the patience to organise their thoughts and put them into words.

I decided to be the solution to this particular problem. Write Hand Hub is a freelance writing agency that collates people’s ideas and thoughts to produce their required content.

What’s your disability?

I had polio at a tender age and it partially paralysed my right leg. Living with paralysis of the right limb, I use a crutch to aid my walking.

Living with disabilities can be quite challenging depending on the society where one finds oneself.

I’m the founder of Disabilities Opportunities, an outlet promoting inclusive opportunities through the sharing of opportunities for persons living with disabilities.

Were there times you were bullied or faced with any discriminatory comments, looks and stares?

True. Acceptance differs with society. Discriminatory comments, uncomfortable questions and unwanted stares are part of the daily routine for a person living with disabilities.

For me, I grew up with lots of those. But I had to develop a thick skin.

I even had to question people on why they stare to the point of awkwardness and embarrassment. And most said they do it unconsciously.

Nowadays, I rarely feel the stares, and I have developed a mien that doesn’t allow for unwanted questions and comments.

Those that are bold enough to ask questions I don’t want, I turn the answer into advocacy on disability rights.

Most people shy away from talking about their disabilities, not to talk of turning them into advocacy for others to benefit from, how was the atmosphere like when you started the advocacy on disability?

At first, I didn’t understand the essence of advocacy. I was privileged to come from a home where my disability wasn’t an issue.

I was groomed to be independent. I could literally do everything I wanted to do: chores and daily living without seeking for help.

So, asides the discriminatory comments, and stares, I didn’t understand exclusion.

Until I left the comfort of my home to school and started mingling with others, opportunities came up; leadership, service, etc.

And without consulting me first, I started hearing [people saying] things like “Don’t ask her, she can’t do it”.

I was infuriated. I felt excluded from my peers. I tried arguing that I could do things if given the opportunity, but these people felt they were doing me a favour by leaving me out of things.

They believe people with disabilities have a lower IQ and might be a burden to their projects.

After it began affecting me and some People Living With Disabilities, (PWDs) I know in getting job and other leadership opportunities, I realised that our Nigerian society needs to be educated on Disability Inclusion.

If I shy away from what is affecting me directly, who else will understand my pain and speak for me?

What do you have to say to PWD’s who are excluding themselves because they feel they can’t do it without even trying?

It can be frustrating dealing with a discriminatory and derogatory society. Especially when you feel there’s no support from anywhere.

However, whichever way you lay your bed, that’s how you’ll lie on it. It’s a famous adage.

If you don’t tell people your pains and distress, they won’t know.

The Nigerian society thrives on derogatory pity and sympathy. And when in that state, they can only see you as a charity case.

It is up to you and me to educate the public on what our fundamental disability rights are.

Again, I see many persons with disabilities who consider themselves as society’s charity cases. They feel the world should be brought to them because they have a disability.

I understand the feeling. But also realise that everyone has difficulties with or without disabilities.

Each and every one of us has to go out there and take on the world. Reduce your dependence on other people taking pity on you and giving you daily bread.

I’m not saying PWDs shouldn’t have a more comfortable life, of course, there should be measures put in place to ease disability — the government, the society and every individual ought to promote inclusion.

But the inclusion should exceed the level of sharing cups of rice and beans.

What do you say to those that sideline and look at PWD’s with disdain and feel they CANNOT do it?

They are the real couriers of inequality and exclusion.

Recently, most of us have lent our voices to the #BlackLivesMatter plight.

We advocate for gender equality. Yet we look down on fellow humans because of a disability. We automatically condemn PWD’s and exclude them in our careers, families, friends, buildings, etc. That is hypocrisy.

Feeling pity for a disabled person doesn’t solve anything. Disability is not contagious neither will it reduce one’s ability to be considered human.

Let us all be intentionally inclusive in all we do. Empower a disabled person with self-sufficient opportunities. Construct buildings that a PWD can access.

Make your work and business accessible by employing sign language interpreters. Promote inclusion in your family and social life.

We are the government, and when each of us is intentionally inclusive, life is better for everyone.

Back to your writings, do you have published works?

At the moment, No. Most published works are either ghost writings that I can’t take credit for or short stories in anthologies.

I also write for a disability magazine ‘Qualitative Magazine.’ However, my first book will be out hopefully by year-end.

What makes good content?

A good content is one that eases the burden of communication on the writer.

The writer can communicate in clear, understandable terms to his audience.
Also, the content should reduce the burden of comprehension on the audience/readers.

They should be able to understand the thoughts, ideas and messages the author is relaying to them without need for further explanation.

Furthermore, a good content ought to fulfil its duty to the story that is being told. The story shouldn’t be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Its meaning shouldn’t be lost.

What do you need to know about a project before you start writing?

First, what message, idea, story, etc. does the project aim to achieve? In what form of writing will it be? Length of the writing.

What voice or tone is best suited for the writing? Who are the audience? There are many more things to know, but these are the basics.

How do you incorporate feedback and edits into your work?

I always ensure my clients review all works I do for them. I inquire if the content fulfils the need which prompted the writing and I incorporate every feedback they give.

However, I also advise and make recommendations where necessary so as to produce the best content.

How do you deal with writers block in the midst of a project with looming deadlines?

I read books, documents, etc. that are related to the content I’m creating. I do strategic researches to get new ideas on how to move my work forward.

How do you handle pressure from clients?

It depends on the kind of pressure. Most times, I ensure that my clients understand the length of time their content will take to be ready, and then I set my own deadline weeks before what I gave them.

I also share stages of the work with clients, so they’ll know that their work is progressing.

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