Talking about Disability: Gains and Challenges in an African Context

Friday, 20 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Phyllis MWANGI, Kenyatta University, Kenya
In Kenya, as in many other parts of the world, disability in the traditional society was generally associated with factors such as curses, witchcraft, and punishment from the gods. Among the Masaai of Kenya, for example, children and adults living with disabilities were viewed as a bad omen to the society and labelled oloibe enkai, meaning “one hated by God”. Thus, people living with disability were subjected to ridicule, rejection, ostracization, torture and even death in extreme cases. It is not surprising, therefore, that the terms used to refer to the various forms of disability were, and in many cases still are, less than flattering. However, among people with or without disability, there is no unanimity on what constitutes offensive terms in disability terminology. There is also variability among cultures and geographical regions. This paper sought to find out how the Agikuyu, a Bantu speaking community in Kenya, conceptualize and encode disability through language. Data in the form of expressions that refer to various forms of handicaps was collected through vernacular radio and television stations. Moreover, respondents were interviewed on their views about the said terms. The findings showed that nearly all the terms used to refer to disability are negative. Morphological evidence indicated that in most cases such terms have pejorative markers. It also emerged that opinion was divided on whether these terms are offensive or not. There were those who felt that one is simply calling a spade a spade in a context where the language hardly provides the cushion of euphemisms. Conversely, others felt that it is better to use descriptors that are more palatable. This is the direction the media has taken, probably due the rigorous campaigns by the National Council for Persons with Disability. The paper recommends that that is the way to go.