ODeL and Inclusivity: Enhancing Learning Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities in Africa
Disability is an umbrella term for impairments including activity limitations and participation restrictions. The interaction between a health condition, personal and environmental factors affect the capacity of persons with disabilities (PWD) to reach mainstream systems, such as that of the education sector. Based on this definition, UN Statistics estimates the number of persons with disabilities in Africa at 80 million, almost a quarter of the estimated 400 million who live in developing countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) goes farther in its estimation of PWD in Africa. According to WHO’s analysis, forty percent of Africa’s population (300 million) can be affected by some form of disability brought about by malnutrition and disease, environmental hazards, traffic and industrial accidents, civil conflict and war. Out of the 300 million people, WHO estimates that 10 to 15 percent are school-age children. Given that disability in Africa conjures stigma and social and economic exclusion, very few African PWD have access to educational and employment opportunities. The average rate of school enrollment for PWD is estimated at no more than 5 to 10 percent and unemployment among them is very high, 70 to 80 percent (Leiden University, 2016).
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of Handicapped Persons, education should ensure that the State provides “learning materials through appropriate assistance measures, ways and means of augmentative and alternative communication, sign language, including the language of touch signs, Braille, relief, unprocessed texts and other alternative formats, a universal and accessible environment, sign language interpreters, assistance of all kinds, and other arrangements” (United Nations, 2006).
One of the greatest challenges in addressing the educational and training needs of PWD in sub-Saharan Africa is the lack of empirical data as to the number, types of impairment, and levels of disability within the population. However, progress and interventions have been made in Kenya, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, South Africa, and Zambia, to name a few.
PWD require differing interventions, ranging from national policy planning and implementation to support to daily activities with supportive materials that could be complex and costly but also inexpensive. More specifically, this includes modifications to physical infrastructure, educational planning and policies, integration of ICTs, and innovative teaching and learning methods (WHO, 2011). Available data demonstrates that the limited infrastructure and education-related facilities provided by tertiary institutions has, in general, resulted in a limited number of disabled professionals in key fields, including science, government, law, and medicine who are able to attain decision-making positions or contribute to local, national, and international initiatives.