Thursday February 13 2014

Against all odds, disabled man drives on

Majjid Kawooya struggles to enter his car.

Majjid Kawooya struggles to enter his car. Despite being disabled, he says he has been driving for 20 years. COURTESY PHOTO 

By Lawrence Ogwal

While at a charity event at Kireka Rehabilitation Centre (KRC) most of the people that were receiving donations were vulnerable people. That afternoon, the team that was overseeing the donation exercise decided to have a group photograph with the recipients. It turned out that the appropriate background had to be a place that was by then occupied by a Toyota Corona locally known as Kibina thanks to its raised rear side. They ordered the owner to park it aside so the photo shoot could start.

What shocked the people around was seei ng a lame man heading towards the car. We were all caught off guard. He only moved while squatting, heading to the car, everyone who didn’t know him anxiously looked at him to see how he is going to drive the car. He struggled to get into the car with the help of his friends and the next thing was driving off to park aside.

Instead of concentrating on the photo shoot, attention was diverted to a man with a disabilty with everyone now keen on seeing how he was going to move the car. After he was done with parking the car, it was my turn to find out more from the horse’s mouth and bring you the story! When I chatted with Majjid Kawooya, he identified himself as, an old student of KRC, studied craft-making because as a person with a disability, he needed something that he could earn a living from and something he would do while stationed in one place.

Kawooya is the Speaker of Ugandans with disabilities and also the head of Kampala People with Disabilities Business Association. When I asked him how he manages to drive when he is lame, the first thing he said was, disability is not inability.
“Being disabled does not mean I should not do what you normal people do,” Kawooya argued. It is quite amazing that he has been driving for 20 years now. He owns two cars, a Toyota Noah and the Corona.

He says that just because he is disabled, does not mean he drives only short distances, say town centre rounds. During the interview, he said he had just returned from upcountry the previous day and that he also spent a week sometime back driving to faraway parts of the country in districts of Busia, Kasese and Mbarara to run his own errands.

Learning how to drive
Kawooya said that unlike other people with disability, he never sat down and started regretting why he had to be born with a disability. For as long as he had the brains and the hands to touch, he has always been willing to try out everything that normal people do. 20 years ago, he decided he wanted to drive but many people discouraged him because of his disability.

However, because he has always had the zeal to learn, he endured. Interesentingly, he learned driving on his own, he did not go to a driving school and he just got a friend’s car and tried it by himself. It took one month of practising before he got on the road to start driving.

How he does it
Kawooya, he pulls his car seat ahead and lowers it to a suitable level. Because his legs are short, he “pushes” his right leg on the accelerator. For the brakes, he uses an iron bar which he has tied tightly on the brake pedal so that whenever he wants to brake, he just presses the iron bar which is attached to the brakes.

He uses one hand to control the steering wheel, indicator, gear lever and the lights. Kawooya said that it is tricky for a normal person to drive his car because it is only him who can understand its dynamics. “Well, one can move it but it needs a lot of attention and focus because just one mistake can lead you into an accident,” he explains.

One of the challenges Kawooya faces is that even though he has a driving licence, traffic police do not want to see him drive. His explanations on how he has been behind the steering wheel for two decades often fall on deaf ears.

The other challenge he faces is that even though the government recognises them as people with disabilities, they are still denied employment. He says they are not hired in offices even when they have the requirements and skills.
Kawooya urges other people with disabilities not to be shaken by the disability and not move on in life. He says while other people with disabilities resort to begging from the streets, they could actually do something that can make them earn a living.

Advice to disabled colleagues
Kawooya urges his colleagues with disabilities not to be shaken by the disability and not move on in life. He says while other disabled people resort to begging from the streets to they could actually do something that can make them earn a living.

“When one has a disability, he/she can as well as do like me, learn how to drive and do something in life,” he notes. Kawooya adds, “When one learns how to drive, they can be entitled to jobs like driving cabs or they can become chauffeurs. These jobs can earn them a living other than sitting and waiting for help.”