2002 Conference Proceedings

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IMPLEMENTING GOVERNMENT POLICY FOR SUPPORTING TECHNOLOGY USE BY PERSONS WITH DISABILITY

AUTHOR:
JAMES ANNOR
People to People International {NGO}
Ghana, West Africa
annorjames@yahoo.com

Introduction:

The relevance of the issue of "technology and persons with disability" connotes a relatively different implication for some countries, especially developing countries and Africa in particular. The situation even becomes more pertinent as the sheer recognition of the issue of disability is bordered in the realm of very complex and entrenched traditional practices. The acceptance, access and use of technology by persons with disability raises a concern which has very little to do with the development but rather an encounter with entrench perceptions and attitudinal changes.

The germane of this paper is thus to raise a practical concern which affects the use and technological application by Persons with Disability. The discussion focuses on the empirical case of Ghana, and specifically on how Government by way of policy is promoting technological application by Persons with Disability. The paper also discusses the challenges facing the approach and finally presents some strategic responses to the promotion of assistive technology for employment among Persons with Disability.

Problem:

It is conservatively estimated that in Ghana, about 5% of the population are known Persons with disability. It must however be noted that quite a number of people with disability are for cultural reasons not disclosed. It is even estimated that the undisclosed number might even be the same as disclosed (UNICEF, 2000). This information connotes that the number of persons with disability in Ghana is about 1.8 million. The highest disability is 'sight' which accounts for about 59 percent followed by hearing/speaking. Due to the high rate of undisclosed disability in the rural areas due to the predominance of cultural norms, disability in Ghana by record has a higher urban incidence, with even the national capital region (Greater Accra) dominating.

Traditionally, disability is perceived to be a punishment by God or the gods for an offence committed by one or by ones kin. If a person is therefore born disabled or become disabled in the course of life, it is interpreted to be a manifestation of the wrath of the gods or God on the person, family or community. In some extreme cases in Ghana people born disabled are clandestinely 'left in the evil forest to be taken away by the Gods' (Sarpong, 1978). This perception thus vindicates the apprehension of restitution and the creation of functional opportunities for people with disability. Any effort in this direction is perceived to be an affront to the God or the gods. The traditional society thus generally frowns upon such situations and some families go to the extent of hiding their children if disabled.

Access to education for many persons with disability in Ghana is practically an urban phenomenon, which is even quite recent. The records show that the figure for Persons with Disability who have received basic education in Ghana is about 10 percentage point behind the average figure of 54 percent, which in itself is not encouraging.i Specialized schools for the Persons with Disability (PWD) are provided in Ghana with at least one in each region. This implies that a PWD cannot easily attend any school like any ordinary child within their locality. It will thus be of necessity that for a PWD child to be educated, one has to be separated for the family to attend a boarding school often located at the Regional Capital. Even to the secondary level of education such is the situation since only specialized schools are equipped with the basic facilities to cater for PWDs. This situation results in the further estrangement of the already suspicious relationship between the PWD and the society.

Even when a PWD has the necessary skill, ability and knowledge to perform in a job securing it and sustaining oneself in it is a noted dilemma. The records again show that unemployment among the PWDs is over 10 percentage more than the national average of 14 percent in 2000. The notion as revealed by investigation is that:

* They must be constantly supervised
* The can only best be served in isolated self-contained setting
* They require additional cost of equipment to be functional
* They are incompetent.

Given such a situation thereof the attempt is not even made to acquire the assistive technology nor even to consider its effectiveness.

In the general situation of things, public facilities, and structures in Ghana limits the general ergonomic capacity of PWDs. Many buildings, which contain public-user facilities, are high-rise without lifts or a means to assists PWDs. Such facilities include, libraries, educational structures, hospitals and government departments. The libraries with Braille facility in Ghana are just 3. The national news as presented on the Television does not include the sign language neither is there any specialized public disseminating means for PWDs.

The cases established above indicates that the problem with Technology for People with Disability in our part of the world is more complex, more of the issues of access and application than development and construction. The use of what has already been created is even a problem demanding a response.

The Response:

In responding to the problem of Technological access by PWD, the Government of Ghana in responding to the constitutional provision (1992), developed the national disability policy, through the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare in June , 2000. The highlights of this policy document are:

* To enact appropriate legislation for the full integration of PWDs into the national economy and protect their rights
* To create an enabling environment for PWDs to promote their economic well being and to enhance their capacity to perform better to improve their socio-economic status
* To create awareness on the plight of PWDs and to whip up national support (including the use of local resources) to promote their welfare.

In implementing this policy, as expected a National Council on Disability has been formed expected to be composed mainly of administrators who are to advice on legislation, technology provision, play advocacy role for PWD and monitor the policy implementation.

The implementation of this policy is thwarted by many challenges and the situation becomes even more aggravated when the issue of technological access is considered specifically.

Challenges to Policy Implementation:

The first challenge has to do with the ability to mobilize the necessary resources to acquire and provide the assistive technology. Even if the emphasis in this respect has to do with direct education and capacity building technology, there is still a practical constraints. The dwindling education budget reducing from 15 percent of GDP to 12.6 percent, if an indicator, requires sector reprioritization as that concerning PWD traditionally is ranked very low. The policy effect in this area so far has remained insignificant as the special schools are being strangled while no alternatives are being provided. People with Disability thus confine their training in very few vocational and trade areas.

The second challenge of the policy is counting on the private sector to provide some of the technological needs. The private sector generally in providing this technology has to do it on economic basis with profit generation as the motive. In respect of a situation where many PWDs are rendered economically incapable, affording these facilities thus becomes a virtual impossibility. The market scope for such assistive technology is thus unattractive to the private sector. In the few cases therefore where PWDs had acquired some specialized technologies, (cars, Braille type writers, computers and even white-canes and hearing aid) special orders had to be made. In many cases these are even used-ones acquired by philanthropic organizations for them.

One also has to grapple with the issue of maintaining these technologies even when acquired. Apart from a few missionary institutions that construct some improvised limbs and repair wheel chairs, there are no other capacities for responding to the maintenance of modern assistive technology. It is therefore not very surprising that in spite the policy, there has been no significant change in the proportion of PWDs in Ghana using any assistive technology in the functioning. This is put at abysmal 20 percent with the wheel chair and White-cane accounting for most.

Another key challenge which seem intransigent is the attitudinal change. This underlines the prioritization of issues related to PWD. In spite of the policy there are still many public houses being designed that do not consider the use by PWD including schools, ministry, libraries, hospital and public place of convenience. It is still an indication and the greatest sign that PWDs should be catered for by the benevolence of other people and not active part of society.

Way forward:

In responding to the defined challenges and promoting the use of assistive technology by Persons with Disability, the following are being proposed:

* The development of adequate data and established technological need of PWDs in the country especially the hidden cases.
* The development of a technological development plan which includes the training of the PWD to develop and maintain assistive technology
* The establish of the development of assistive technology as part of the curriculum for Engineering Departments of Institutions of Learning in the country
* To continue and expand the national awareness campaign on Disability in the country
* Establish a training link with other institutions outside to facilitate the gradual transfer of appropriate technology for PWDs.
* Establish a dynamic process for advocating for the plight of PWDs so as to influence national decision making especially in prioritization and distribution of national resources.

It can be concluded that unless more effort is geared towards enhancing the application of the use of assistive technology by PWDs, very little would be achieve by way of improving their plight and creating equal opportunity for them.

References:

UNICE (2000): The situation of Children in Ghana, Accra. UNICEF

Government of Ghana (2000): National disability policy document, Accra, Government Press.

Sarpong, Akwasi (1978): Ghana in retrospect, Accra, Ghana Publishing Corporation

i It must be noted that this is against the background that there are about 50% of Persons with Disability who are hidden and are not captured by this data.


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