NANKOU Mika January 30, 2009 "On the Spot in Africa / Ghana:
Working towards the Full Participation of People with Disabilities in Ghana"

Africa Now 83

"On the Spot in Africa / Ghana:
Working towards the Full Participation of People with Disabilities in Ghana"

About the Author:
NANKOU worked as an AIDS Coordinator as a part of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers in Ghana from September 2006 to 2008. In January 2009, she returned to Ghana as a JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) field coordinator.

According to the 2002 National Disability Policy Document, in Ghana, 10% of the population, approximately 2 million people, are said to have some type(s) of disabilities. If we categorize by the type of disabilities; the highest number of people with disabilities are those with visual impairment, followed by physical disability, then by intellectual disabilities, and the forth highest is those with hearing impairment. People with visual impairment and people with physical disabilities make up 63% of people with disabilities. There are no categories for people with multiple disabilities or people with internal impediment. 37% of males and 53% of females with disabilities are deprived of an opportunity for education. Furthermore, the divorce rate with women with disabilities is four times higher then with men with disabilities.

Ghana established the law for the disabled's rights in 1992. Furthermore, Ghana government instituted the National Disability Policy in 2000, after the announcement in 1993 of the UN-based international guideline, the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, calling for full participation and equality of people with disabilities in the development agenda for the attainment of poverty reduction, job creation, income generation in rural areas by 2020. In 2006, the Disability Act was enacted and 2% of the Ashanti province government budget was to be allocated for activities related to the support of people with disabilities. However, there was no legitimate monitoring and evaluation of the allocated budget. Finally in 2008, two years after the establishment of the Disability Act, the government moved to elect members for the National Commission on Disability (NCD).

After the UN convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was issued on May of 2008, small developments could be seen in national aid for people with disabilities. First, there was increase in coverage in the media of information in relation to people with disabilities and activities of international aid agencies that work for/with the disabled became more visible. For example, the Ghanaian Department of Education will begin a program called Information and Communication Technology, aimed for teachers who have students with visual disabilities. Moreover, the Kwame Nkruma Science and Technology University in Kumasi will begin a Baccalaureate and Masters program on disability studies -- rehabilitation and development, with support by the Government of the Netherlands.

I worked in Ghana as one of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers as a coordinator for AIDS for two years from September 2006 to 2008. Although reports showed that disabled women are more at higher risk to be infected with HIV and to suffer sexual abuse, the HIV/AIDS programs by international aid organizations did not include people with disabilities. Upon arrival in Ghana, I proposed a HIV/AIDS prevention program for them, but my proposition fell to deaf ears. Despite the setback, in the summer of 2007, with some members of the disabled community, we created the Executive committee of the Assistance of the Ghana Disabilities Act with the goal of the equality and full participation of the disabled. The director of the committee was an activist for the rights of the disabled, who has worked to ensure the social participation of disabled people in the Ashanti region by organizing such activities as sports events. The first activity of the committee was the participation of a team centered on people with disabilities in the Ghana Yosakoi festival. This annual festival brought together Japanese living/working in Ghana and was widely taken up by the local media.

[The road to participation in the Ghana Yosakoi Festival]

Ghana Yosakoi festival began with the proposition by Japanese Ambassador Kazuko Asai whose birth place Kochi prefecture is famous for the Yosakoi festival. The festival, sponsored by the Japanese Embassy and Japanese companies, has been held annually since 2002 in Accra, the capital of Ghana, to promote friendship between Ghana and Japan. The 2007 festival the Yosakoi team took part in had about 600 participants.

The creation of a disabled person centered team was the result of an effort to use the opportunity of an event which aims to increase cultural exchange between Japan and Ghana to create an activity to further social participation of people with disabilities. However, we faced many challenges in creating this team, including funding, differences in disabilities, selecting dancers, finding transportation and accommodations that are accessible for people with disabilities. With only two months of practice time until the festival, we were very anxious on how much we can accomplish.

After taking into consideration the preparation time and transportations cost, the selected participants were 13 junior high students in a dance class from a school for people with hearing disabilities, and from rehabilitation center for the disabled, three people with physical disabilities, two person with visual disabilities and one person with total blindness. Some asked to participate in the team and others were recommended by the director of the center. In addition, to aid the students, 20 people, including teachers from the school for people with hearing disabilities (for sign language interpretation) and other volunteers joined the festival effort.

With the help of the Yosakoi support committee, we were able to obtain a DVD to aid in Yosakoi dancing lessons. The instructor for the dance club at the school for students with hearing disabilities lead the practice everyday and the volunteers taught the students at rehabilitation center. However, due to frequent power failure and technical problems with machines, practicing was difficult. In the end, students were only able to practice about one week before the actual event.

As we prepared for the festival, there were some discussions on how a student with visual disabilities can dance. Some said that the student should learn the same dance as everyone else, while others said that the student should not dance because it would draw even more negative attention, thus increasing discrimination towards people with disabilities. When we asked the student with the visual disability about what she wanted to do, she answered, "I want to join the Yosakoi dancing, but I cannot dance the same style as everyone else". As according to her will, we created an easier dancing step for her and decided to have a helper to guide her on the day of the dance.

[The day of the Ghana Yosakoi festival]

Throughout my two years in Ghana, I have never seen a vehicle for people with disabilities. Some of the participants of the Yosakoi festival used wheelchairs. There were no low-floor buses, so we searched for a bus with the lowest possible step. Furthermore, we looked at more then ten accommodations because of the difficulty in finding a barrier free accommodation. All of the hotels and accommodations in Ghana we have searched had steps, including bumps or steps to the bathrooms and washing facilities. It was difficult finding an accommodation that are both barrier free and close to the hospital (in case of emergencies). Not until the day of the actual event, did we find a proper accommodation. We decided to book an accommodation building within a university because although there were two steps to the room, the step to the bathroom was low and the availability of security at night.

On the day of the festival, we departed Kumasi at six in the morning and arrived in Accra an hour before the event. With financial and time constraints, we never had the opportunity to practice as a team. Thus, not until the day of the event did the all of the team members meet each other.

Participants from the school for deaf students used Ghanaian sign language (GSL) that came from American Sign Language, whereas the participants from the rehabilitation center, having no opportunity to learn GSL, used sign language used by the center and/or their village. At first, the deaf students from the school complained not to understand the sign language used by those from the rehabilitation center, but I was relieved, when gradually, they learned to understand and communicate with each other.

On the day of the event, we were joined by seven students from a school in Accra distinguished for its high academic achievements. I had concerns about the level of understanding these students had on people with disabilities. I was hoping to ask for permission from the school to hold a class on people living with disabilities, but due to time constrains, I was unable to do so. Furthermore, I came to an understanding of the depth of the level of discrimination of the poor and/or disabled in Ghana when I was told by a Ghanaian that the school would not make time for such a class. As I had feared, the high school students began to complain that they did not want to dance with people with disabilities. However, after seeing the dancing by the disable students, their attitude changed. Furthermore, the students from the deaf school ended up dancing in the front row because their dancing was the most accurate. Some students from the high school even showed interest in learning basic words in sign language. The high school students danced in the row behind the deaf students, and behind them were a row of completely deaf students and their helpers. The students with physical disabilities who were unable to hold practices because of technical problems in playing the DVD, danced in the last row as flag holders.

Mr. Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a disabled Ghanaian, who is an advocate for the rights for people with disability and famous from the movie "Emmanuel's Gift", gave a speech in the opening ceremony of the Yosakoi Festival. On the day of the festival, when I was at the gas station to purchase some water for the team members, a young man nearby had on a t-shirt with "Emmanuel's Gift" on it. Looking at the T-shirt, I said to the young man that it would inspire our team members with disabilities if Mr. Emmanuel gave a speech at the Yosakoi Festival. To my surprise, the young man was Mr. Emmanuel. He accepted our request, and gave an excellent speech on the full participation and the rights of people with disabilities at the opening ceremony of the Yosakoi Festival.

Finally, it was time for the team centered on people with disabilities, named "Ashanti New Generation team" to dance. There were 30 dancers including the seven high school students and three Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers. There were clamors among the audience as I was introducing the team, some doubting the ability of people with disabilities in dancing. When the sign language interpreters signaled the start of the dance, the team showcased their Yosakoi dance. I was moved by the power of music and dance as I watched people in wheelchairs and their helpers go around to the front and back to dance and the staying to true to their Ghanaian roots, their dance was dynamic and extempore. Three deaf students and one person with wheelchair were awarded with the prize for the best dancers. Although the schools and the institutions of team members have existed in the Ashanti region for more then 30 years, this was the first time people from the different facilities and institutions have interacted.

[International Day of Persons with Disabilities]

With the conclusion of the Yosakoi festival, we began to plan for the International Day of Disabled Persons taking place in December 3rd, 2007. We filled out application form and wrote proposals which were submitted to the city and the regional administrative offices for the use of some of the 2% of Ashanti province government budget that was allocated for activities related to the support of people with disabilities However, even after paying several visits to the administrative offices, we only received ambiguous answers. Although, we faced challenges in accessing financial support, in the end, we were able to raise some funds for the activities through the donations from individuals and schools.
This event was held in downtown Kumasi, with the participation of 103 people: 70 students from the local rehabilitation centers for the disabled, 10 members from the athletic club of the Association of the Disabled, 20 brass club members from a middle high school and 3 Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers. The participants marched through the town handing out flyers on the Ghana Disabilities Act and asking for donation. Furthermore, with member of the association of the disabled, we paid a visit to the city and regional administrative offices calling for the use of the 2% of Ashanti province government budget that was allocated for activities related to the support of people with disabilities, in addition to demanding the protection of the rights of people with disabilities.

[Ghana and Japan Network Event]

On August 1, 2008, we planned and held a Ghana and Japan Network Event. Interested JOCV and Ghanaians worked together on this event, which was to promote international exchange between Ghana and Japan. Although these types of events for international exchange are held often, this event was organized by the an executive committee of eight, composed of four Japanese staff and four Ghanaian staff in which one was a person with disabilities and the other was a person working on disability related activities.

Among much of the JOCV, most have never made acquaintance with the disabled people or thought about issues related to disabilities people -- thus I have long felt for a need to create an opportunity to understand and work with people with disabilities. It is important to use these kinds of events which promote participation of people with disabilities in society in their respective regions to change people's perception of people with disabilities.

We received a suggestion by an association of people with disabilities to include a soccer match for people with physical disabilities (i.e.: people with partial or total loss of at least one limb). However, when I presented this idea to those involved in planning the event, we received a lukewarm reaction, many of them voicing opinions such as, "I feel sorry for one-legged people who have to play a soccer game in public," or "I don't understand why we have to hold an event with people with disabilities. There are lots of infrastructural barriers and there is no restroom accessible for people with disabilities. It will be better both sides if there is a different event for people with disabilities." After receiving such a reaction, people living with disabilities themselves responded in the following way:

Despite the fact that there are people with diverse disabilities in our society, our social system functions in a way which excludes those people -- thus, creating an even greater 'disability'. The difference between those with disabilities and those without disabilities is not and individual problem, it is the problem of the society. If we are to provide free HIV testing to everyone, we need to ensure there are slopes to overcome the problem of stairs. Just by having the slope, we are able to access the essential medical services. By providing reading materials in Braille on HIV/AIDS prevention at schools, at the very least, people with visual disabilities will be able to access this kind of information if needed. By providing sign language interpreters in hospitals, people with hearing disabilities will be able to access medical services. The legitimate consideration of society does not exist right now, thus it is important to tackle this as the problem of the society. The lack of "reasonable consideration" for people with disabilities, rather then people with disabilities themselves makes disabilities a problem for society. We must create a society in which the rights of people with disabilities are protected.

Over 500 people from people in working relations with JICA and the JOCV and local people from the regions including people with disabilities participated in the event. The event began at 9 in the morning with a march. Although a sudden power failure caused a 30 minute delay in the start of the event, all in all the event with a wide range of activities was very successful. There were booths that introduced JOCV activities, sampling of Japanese snacks, peace exhibition of Hiroshima, Yosakoi dancing, Sumo, and a Ghanaian chorus that sang "Hotaru no Hikari", free HIV testing, and a speech from a person living with HIV/AIDS.

But the event that made people most excited was the soccer match by people with partial or full of loss of at least one limb. After noticing the flyers posted around the city and/or from listening from the radio, people with disabilities came to the event, and friendships and exchanges were forged among them. A student with physical disabilities at the rehabilitation center for the disabled became a member of the Ghana Federation of the Disabled and now participates in sport for the disabled. His dream is to win the gold medal in the track and field at African Cup Paralympics.

'The Small Heart Project', funded by the Supporting Organization of JOCV, worked with peer educators trained by Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana (PPAG) to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS prevention to people with hearing disabilities at schools for the deaf, to people with severe impairment in his physical abilities at the work and rehabilitation center, to people at the branches of the Ghana Federation of the Disabled, and at schools and orphanages that serve primarily people with intellectual disabilities. Several students at the school for people with hearing disabilities lamented that although they would like to take an HIV test, it is difficult to access medical service because there were no sign language interpreters at hospitals. I quickly notified the situation to the PPAG, and carried out a free and mobile HIV testing. Teachers who could use sign languages carried out a group counseling session on HIV testing, and nurses and other volunteers that will carry out the actual HIV test, learned to make simple conversation using sign language. As a result, over 75 students were able to get tested for HIV.

As for people with visual disabilities, we were able to hand out Braille texts on HIV prevention to two middle schools, one high school, and 2 universities connected with the information centers for people with visual disabilities. We wanted to issue Braille texts covering information on reproductive health, but printing diagrams and other graphics in Braille requires an explanation that is easy to understand but still precise enough to ensure accuracy. We neither had enough time or money, so this time we settled on printing Braille texts with information on just HIV prevention and testing. Even than, a teacher for the complete vision loss from the school for people with visual disabilities was very excited and appreciative, saying "In Ghana, until now, detailed information on HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases did not exist, and we could only rely on the information introduced on the radio station. But now, using these Braille texts, we are able to teach them accurate and precise information on HIV." To me, the most memorable moment was being able to watching the students using the Braille texts and having a discussion on HIV/AIDS.

[In Japan]

After returning to Japan, I went to my alma mater, where I had the opportunity to hold a group work session on the realities faced by people with disabilities in developing countries to university students majoring in social welfare. I began by explaining the challenges faced by people living in a developing country, such as healthcare, employment, education and sanitation. Then, I invited students to discuss what it would be like for a person with disabilities to live in the kind of environment or what would they take into consideration if they were in charge of creating a development program. Among the students, one with disabilities said, "I was born in Japan [with disabilities], but I cannot fathom what would of become of me if I was born in a developing country. It breaks my heart since I take this issues faced by people with disabilities in developing countries very personally."

From the perspective of human security of realization of freedom and possibility of all people, development must go hand and hand with the protection of the rights of people with disabilities in developing countries. As we work toward the Millennium Development Goals and towards the alleviation of poverty in developing countries, we must secure a continuous and meaningful participation of people with disabilities, from the planning, execution and evaluation of the development strategy.

Article 32 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, issued on May of 2008, includes a section on "international cooperation". My hope is for organizations involved in international cooperation will give reasonable consideration to and according to people with disabilities and move toward a more effective development and aid for people with disabilities in developing countries

Furthermore, when I was working at Ghana as a JOCV, I found that few people knew Braille. So although it may be a very discrete and small action, I created my own business cards with English Braille text. As I continue my work as a JICA staff in Ghana in January of 2009, I will have many opportunities to meet with government officials, local NGO staffs, JICA people, and local people in Ghana. Some will ask questions about the bumps on my business card. I hope that bit by bit, beginning with the explanation of the Braille, to be able to hold regular discussions on the realities of the situation of people with disabilities in developing countries and to spread the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

With hope that as countries continue on the path of development, to ensures the protection of the human rights of people with disabilities.

Theme-related Links

◆Africa Japan Forum

Prepared by HIRAGA Midori
UP: December 10, 2009