The maiden African Disability Conference has successfully been held with a call on African leaders and policymakers to consider the development and empowerment of Persons Living with Disability (PWDs) in all sectors.
The virtual conference held on 10th October, 2020, under theme “Challenging and Changing the Disability Narrative in Africa” further pushed for strong institutions that would champion the care for PWDs across the African continent. It focused on exploring innovative and contextualized solutions for disability advocacy organizations and practitioners in Africa.
Organized by Dislabelled, an NGO aimed at providing career and academic development opportunities to increase the economic power of PWDs in Africa, the virtual conference brought together over 200 participants and stakeholders within the disability space from 24 different African countries. The conference had 12 well-refined panelists from the Health, Employment and the Educational sector on the African continent. It was broken down into three main panels: Promoting Equitable Healthcare Access, Bridging the Gaps in Education Delivery, and Building Inclusive Employment Systems: Laws, Policies and Opportunities.
According to the World Bank, one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. In Africa, it estimated that 60-80 million people are living with disabilities. In the same vein, the Ghana Statistical Service projected that three percent of Ghana’s population of 24,658,823 people had one type of disability or the other.
Many individuals living with disabilities are often exposed to stigma, discrimination and lack of decent services which prevents them from reaching their full potential.
Speaking on the topic “Education: Bridging the Gaps in Education Delivery”, Mr. Ebenezer Azamati, a visually Impaired Educator, said very few persons with disability are fortunate to buy and use new technologies that comes into the system. He advocated for education to be expanded to cover people who would want to learn the usage of new gadgets in the system in order to teach persons with disability.
“Technology is at the heart of today’s efficient person with disability. Now there are three problems, however, the first one is, how expensive these materials are to persons with disability. As if it’s by providential design, many persons with disabilities come from very poor families and it is really difficult for a lot of us to access these materials that are very important for our education,” he said.
Mr. Azamati called on leaders of governments in Africa to consider subsiding new technological gadgets for persons with disabilities so that they can have access to them.
“Another problem has to do with technological companies themselves. Every now and then, when these companies are manufacturing their gadgets, considerations for persons with disability end up being after thoughts. So, mostly, you get these products coming in and six months or a year or two before you can get updated ones that persons with disability can use,” Mr Azamati disclosed.
On Building Inclusive Employment Systems: Laws, Policies and Opportunity, the Project Manager Humanity and Inclusion at Handicap International, Simon Mwangi called on the various governments on the continent not be adamant in their bid to empower PWDs at all levels.
“We need to realize and ensure that in our little way, we can make a change. We need to hold our governments accountable to ensure that they enforce and implement each and every policy because we have the best policies and documents to ensure that persons with disability have a decent work,” he stressed.
Mr Mwangi further noted that though Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) on the continent are doing all they can to help PWDs, African leaders should know that disability is the source of innovation and talent.
A participant, Ms Mphuthi Thato, founder of Enabled Enlightenment on her review of the event thanked the organizers for providing the platform for her to share her experience.
“I am truly grateful to have been a part of such an incredible movement that spoke to my daily challenges or lived experience as a young women living with a disability. The sessions on health and education got me thinking beyond what I’ve been working on with my initiative Enabled Enlightenment. A warm embrace to the organizing team,” she said.
The Western Cape Network on Disability described the conference as ‘The first of its kind’.
Dislabelled was founded in 2012, by Nana Ama Akowuah, Sedinam Worlanyo and Efua Asibon in Ghana, and has since expanded its reach to other African countries.
A member of the Dislabelled team, Sedinam Worlanyo commended the participants and the resource persons who devoted their time for the virtual event. She pointed out that the conference was one out of many that would inspire positive change across communities, sectors and the world.
Madam Sedinam noted that hearing from the resource persons, one would appreciate that changing the narrative on disability issues in Africa is not an easy task. “It does require a collective-bottom up-system-efforts across sectors such as education, health care and employment,” she stated.