Thursday, August 6, 2015

I SUPPORT........!!!!

I Support………………!!!!

The thought of volunteering on the Yumba Project of ICS all came with excitement for me. This was because I realised this was going to be a whole new experience to learn about people with Intellectual Disabilities (ID). My previous knowledge of ID was only restricted to Autism and therefore saw this opportunity to learn more about the other types of ID. I must say that true to it, this expectation has been met fully and I now have a broad view about other types of ID such as Down’s syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (AD-HD), and Autism Spectrum Disorder. With my basic knowledge in these ID, I have been able to educate myself enough about the fact that people with ID must be integrated into the society and not left out.

Upon all the joy I have about this new knowledge, one question keeps popping in my head: ‘’HOW MANY PEOPLE IN GHANA AND AFRICA ALSO HAVE THIS BASIC KNOWLEDGE OR AWARENESS OF INTELLECTUAL DISABILITIES?’’. The reason why I keep on having this one question is the fact that if a lot of people in Ghana as well as Africa had such basic knowledge about the types, causes, and care of ID, the stigma against intellectually disabled people would be wiped out gradually and such people would be able to integrate them in the society as ordinary people.

There are more than one billion people living with a physical, sensory, intellectual or mental health disability in the world—four out of five live in low- and middle-income countries. People with disabilities experience negative attitudes that can result in violence, sexual abuse, stigma and discrimination, which can lead to low self-esteem and social isolation. People with intellectual disability (ID) are amongst the most marginalised groups globally. They experience social exclusion on a much greater scale than their able-bodied counterparts and this experience is intensified within contexts of poverty such as those in Ghana and on the African continent. Furthermore, where services are available for persons with other disabilities, ID is often neglected, partly due to the low advocacy of the disability by and for them. Research into ID is predominantly conducted in and about high-income countries. This reflects the greater investment by these governments in social services with more resources available to undertake research. The situation of people with ID in developing contexts such as the case in Ghana and Africa is starkly different to that of the western world.

Within African society, traditional conceptions of ID have been insufficiently explored. There has been a belief about supernatural causes of disability which is more common in African societies, affecting the way that it is dealt within the community. Traditional beliefs of ID as caused by divine retribution or witchcraft have been described in a lot of African countries such as Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Zambia. This belief varies with age and education with the younger or western educated individuals being less likely to hold these beliefs but they can have severe consequences for people with ID. There have been situations in Ghana where traditional beliefs caused families to hide these persons because of shame. This, in turn, leads to a lack of exposure to ID within wider society that further contributes to ongoing stigma and discrimination.

The access to education for children with intellectual disabilities is critical to their hopes of achieving greater independence and community participation. However, access to education is extremely limited for these children in Africa. World Vision International conducted a study on education for children with disabilities which notes that about one-third of the 77 million out-of-school children in the world are disabled. In Africa, less than 10% of disabled children attend school. Research carried out by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) says children with intellectual and multiple disabilities are the most likely of all disabled children to be out of school. The ACPF study reported up to 86.5% of children with ID were not in school in Senegal. Despite growing policy commitments to inclusive education, special schools are provided in many African countries as the only specific response to ID. A typical example of such special schools in Ghana is the Yumba Special School, Tamale, which is the only school in the Northern region of Ghana for children with intellectual disabilities. In Africa, most parents are reluctant to send their disabled children to school because they do not see the value of sending a disabled child to school because of their low expectations of the child. The Salamanca Statement claims that education for all can only be achieved through an inclusive orientation in regular schools and this is echoed in Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Inclusion International, a global disability organisation, advocates for inclusive education as a means of addressing the social exclusion and discrimination experienced by people with ID in Africa. 

At present, the majority of children with ID attending school in Africa do so in the mainstream. This mainstream provision does not amount to full inclusion as it is largely unsupported and unresponsive to the individual pupil’s need for learning support. The international policy direction is to expand support for children with ID in mainstream settings as a means to reaching larger numbers in a financially sustainable and socially just manner. In order to achieve this goal, Dr. Tsitsi Chataika of the University of Zimbabwe and a group of researchers have identified the following recommendations from an Africa wide conference on disabled children in Africa, held in 2008:
  • ·         The development of inclusive education systems that acknowledge African realities and serve to combat negative stereotypes of disability.
  • ·         Family and parents involvement in education, using partnerships to make the best use of limited resources.
  • ·         Governments to commit to the provision of education for disabled children in line with the Millennium Development Goals and the United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD).
  • ·         Inter-sectoral collaboration especially at the level of early childhood development, leading to a smooth transition to primary education.

Page 137 of The World Report on Disability describes support as a requirement for disabled people ‘‘to achieve a good quality of life and to be able to participate in social and economic life on an equal basis with others’’. Families and communities needs to identify and respond to the needs of children and adults with intellectual disabilities rather than relying on paid, professional staff. This is particularly important in a Ghanaian context as family and community care remain the commonly available option as opposed to the extensive and expensive social services of high-income countries. Women and mothers in most parts of Africa more often shoulder the responsibility for family care. They experience stress, less chance of employment and often end up caring for others. Often, mothers, sisters or grandmothers act as single parents as the biological fathers may be migrant workers or unable or unwilling to stay with the disabled child and his or her mother. As a result these women find themselves under extreme economic pressure as they are not able to seek employment because of the demands of caring for their disabled child. The notion of support therefore needs to be extended beyond the ID person to their carers who need economic support and respite care as well as creating opportunities for their children to socialise.

Access to the environment is often conceived of as being basically that of physical access, especially the accessibility of buildings and infrastructure. People with ID share a common concern with visually and hearing-impaired people with access to information and with all disabled peopled in access to the independent use of transport. In order for people with severe intellectual and multiple disabilities to access their environment it is essential that their communication needs are recognised and met. Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) ‘‘helps individuals with severe communication disorders to compensate for activity limitation and enhances participation in various communicative interactions’’.it is sad to note that Access to AAC services remains very restricted in Ghana and other parts of Africa and this restricts the participation of people with ID as well as their education and access to information relevant to them. Their limited access to education and literacy further restricts the ability of people with ID to gather information from their environment.

Reliable figures for unemployment of disabled people are difficult to come by. Some research states that these rates could be between 40% and 60% higher than that of the non-disabled population. In South Africa adults with ID contribute a disability grant to the household income which in many cases provides a welcome poverty alleviation source that sometimes places their families in a better position than those without disabled family members. By contrast in other countries such as Ghana, Zambia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria there is little or no provision for adults with ID and no provision of social grants. Whilst there are some small initiatives to develop skills amongst this group, they and their families remain economically vulnerable and unemployed. In Ghana, the few special schools available offer employable vocational skills to their pupils in order to make them self-sufficient later on after they are done with their education. A school such as the Yumba Special School offer skills such as batik tie & dye making, car washing, bead making, rag rugs making, and t-shirt printing to its pupils in order to equip them to have a life of independence after school.

 It is quite an issue that the awareness of intellectual disability in Ghana and Africa as a whole is very low considering the stigma and problems people with intellectual disabilities go through in their daily lives. Stigma, access to the environment, access to education, and a lack of employment opportunities are all some of the problems intellectually disabled people go through in Ghana and Africa. The problems will continue to prevail as long as the awareness is not created in our various communities.  The awareness will wipe away the greatest problem they face which is Stigmatization and discrimination. This is first and basic step to integrate them into society. In my personal view, once stigma is wiped off it will create an enabling environment to address the other issues people with intellectual disability go through. It’s rather unfortunate that there are only a few groups and organizations out there providing the awareness of intellectual disabilities in Africa. Most horrifying is the fact that most of these groups are non-governmental organizations which means most governments in Africa don’t really play an active role in the awareness creation. In Ghana, one such organization that is playing such an active role in creating awareness on intellectual disability is International Service (IS) which is partnered with the Yumba Special School. International Service volunteers create the awareness through its various sensitization programs in various communities in and around Tamale, the Northern Regional capital. International Service volunteers also go on radio programs to educate the masses in the region about intellectual disability.

With all the efforts being made by these organizations, the greater number of the Ghanaian populace and Africa as a whole is still lagging behind in terms of knowledge about intellectual disability. I believe a united effort from both African governments and other non-governmental organizations will go a long way in helping to address issues with intellectual disabilities.
                            I SUPPORT DISABILITY RIGHTS!!!!!!

Blog was written by Abraham Donkor, an ICS in-country volunteer working on the Yumba Project. The blog highlights on the level of awareness of Intellectual Disability in Ghana and Africa. 

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