“Although you shall see from a distance the land that I am giving the Israelites, you shall not enter it,” this was the punishment from God to Moses for failing to obey a simple instruction to speak to a rock to produce water for the Israelites.
Such ‘punishment’ could be justifiable because the Patriarch (Moses) had violated set rules but when through no ‘sin’ of yours societal structures and systems practically makes it impossible for one to realise his or her dreams, then that is problematic.
Indeed “if dreams were like horses, beggars would ride.” Mr Isaac Ansah and Master Gabriel Kpalam, are two visually impaired persons I came into contact with during my sojourn from a year round work schedule.
While I met Mr Ansah in an Accra-based church dexterously play the keyboard and gifted with making out musical notes with such ease, Master Kpalam passes as a spotlessly fine gentleman with close to 3,000 students under his leadership as Head Prefect of the Okuapeman School in Akropong in the Eastern Region.
The two who speak impeccable English and exhibit intellectual prowess in their respective fields are part of the scores of visually impaired persons across the country that have chosen the path of pursuing formal education to better their lot rather than beg for alms on major streets in the country.
The dreadful truth however is that, the future looks gloomy them and their colleagues as they have had to not only deal with putting away their dream study courses and adjust to ‘suitable’ ones for the visually impaired but doubtful of securing mainstream employment with their condition considering the level of discrimination and societal stigma against persons with disabilities (PWDs).
Gabriel and Isaac coincidentally were not born blind. They had tasted sight till various stages of their childhood life when they suffered impairment. For the Head Prefect of Okuapeman, his sight begun failing him only four years ago when diagnosed of Retinitis Pigmentosa whereas Isaac gradually lost both sight around age five after a friend he was playing with mistakenly hit his eye with a stick.
Both gentlemen are passionate about the Sciences and Mathematics, but while Gabriel has had to ‘drop’ his dream of becoming an Aeronautic Engineer after undertaking Science for a year at the St. Peters Secondary School (where his condition begun), the latter remains unemployed regardless attaining a Bachelor of Arts in Social Studies from the University of Education, Winneba, six years ago.
“Growing up, I wanted to become a doctor but when I got to SHS, I realised I could not offer any other course apart from General Arts because there are no logistics to support the study of Science and Maths related subjects in this country not even at the University level.
Most of us in this condition are confined to the study of history, political science, religion and sociology. I originally applied for Music at the University and even that, I could not get the opportunity,” the 34-year old who is currently a Music Director at the Pigfarm Assemblies of God Church, lamented.
It is estimated that approximately 1.7 per cent of Ghana’s population have severe visual impairment, a 2018 study by the Operation Eyesight Universal has said.
Ghana’s Inclusive Education (IE) policy (2015-2019), developed on the premise of the Article 38 (2) of the 1992 Constitution which guarantees the right to education, provides an opportunity for all stakeholders in the education sector to address the diverse learning needs of various categories of citizens in the Ghanaian education system.
It seeks to provide direction for the management and delivery of education services to be re-packaged to ensure that the school curriculum, the processes of teaching and learning, and the professional development of professionals (human resources) and the provision of teaching and learning material resources is enhanced to address the diverse needs of various categories of persons of school age to stimulate efficient and effective learning for these pupils.
This is in line with goal four of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030.
But, Executive Director of the Ghana Blind Union (GBU), Dr Peter Obeng-Asamoa President of the GBU, thinks Ghana hasn’t made enough strides in implementing its inclusive education policy considering the huge gaps pertaining to infrastructure, human and educational resources among others for the visually impaired.
“We have developed the policy of inclusive education but the actual implementation on the ground isn’t happening as it ought to be, a lot more has to be done,” he said.
Head of the Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired at the Okuapeman Senior High School, Mr Seth Kwame Ativor in an interview gave confirmation to the plight of such persons despite an inclusive education policy.
“We all went through the same ordeal, even for my Bachelors in IT software management, I had to do it outside the country but the question is how many people can afford the cost of training outside so, in the end they give up on their aspirations to chart another course or end up begging for alms,” he disclosed.
Mr Ativor lamented inadequate textbooks, limited teaching materials, unfavourable classroom setting and furniture, insufficient specialised teachers among other difficulties affecting quality teaching and learning activities though Okuapeman is a model school for IE in the country.
While the GBU is pushing for the review of section 19 of the Copyright law to allow for educational materials to be reproduced in braille as part of measures to promote IE, it argues that government must walk the talk by injecting proper funding into specialised education.
“From 2016 to 2019, we have seen a 75 per cent decline in government allocation to specialised education which government has promised to raise but it is yet to be realised.
“Aside that, the GES must be more innovative in implementing IE, if possible, there should be sanctions for school heads who are unintentional about the policy to enable persons with visual impairment realise their full potential,” he urged.
Determined to brace the odds, Gabriel Kpalam believes “no condition is permanent” and should he succeed in his dream of becoming a law, his prime focus will be to champion the human rights of unsighted persons in the country.
“We have so many things to offer this country if given the chance and the state must begin to pay attention to PWDs to enable us contribute our quota to national development,” Isaac Ansah who has lost count of number of applications sent to different companies for a job advised.
BY ABIGAIL ANNOH