I was at a restaurant the other day when I overheard a woman complain to the manager about the accessibility of use the restroom. Immediately, I found myself turning around to take a better look at the owner of that voice. She was an older woman who was wheelchair bound. The manager’s response was to apologize profusely and say something to the effect of “In the mean, just ask for help and I will relay your feedback to Corporate.”
I realized that this scene would not have been the case in many countries around the world. So today, I would like to shine my spotlight on Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah.
If you are born disabled in Ghana, West Africa you are likely to be poisoned, or left to die by your family; and if you are not poisoned or left for dead, you’re likely to be hidden away in a room; and if you’re not hidden, you are destined to spend your lifetime begging on the streets.
Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born in Ghana, West Africa in 1977 without a right tibia, the inner and usually larger of the two bones of the lower limb between the knee and ankle, which left him crippled. Emmanuel was immediately shunned. In fact, his father abandoned the family because of Emmanuel’s deformity. His mother was advised to murder him or leave him in the forest to die.
At the time, Emmanuel earned about $2 a day shining shoes to support himself and his family. A visiting missionary happened to notice Emmanuel and his plight and let him know about Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) grant program. He proceeded to write a letter to CAF pleading for a bicycle so that he may ride across the country and raise awareness. Emmanuel had no clue how life changing this letter would be as it made its way to America.
Emmanuel went on to receive the bicycle along with sponsorship. He set out on an epic 400 mile bike ride across Ghana using only one leg while the other one just hung uselessly. While he was met with skepticism, he pressed on bringing awareness to the plight of the nearly two million disabled people in Ghana. He would complete that ride in 10 days. He states that his dream was for Ghana and the world begin to take notice of the possibilities for disabled people who were usually shunned, underestimated and relegated to poverty and begging.
Soon after he completed his cross country trek, CAF invited Emmanuel to participate in it’s annual 56 mile bike race in San Diego, California. It was during this opportunity that members of the Loma Linda Medical Center informed him that he was a good candidate to receive a prosthetic leg. After a successful surgery and 6 weeks recovery, Emmanuel was back on his feet doing what he does best: inspire people.
Through the course of his journey, Emmanuel has received a number of distinctions and awards: He was awarded the CAF Most Inspirational Athlete of the Year Award and Nike‘s Casey Martin award. He also received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the annual ESPY Awards in July 2005.
What is most important perhaps is his message and what he has been able to achieve. His tireless journey of teaching disabled people self-respect, promoting legislation changes, collaborating to bring jobs, training, micro-credit, access and acceptance into educational institutions. In 2005, that journey was captured in a documentary entitled “Emmanuel’s Gift”.
Please spend the next few minutes to hear from Emmanuel himself as he reflects on his journey in 2008.