When the tickets and invitation cards from the Ghana Blind Union (GBU) arrived for the event; “dinner in the dark” at the Holiday Inn I vowed to attend the event no matter the circumstances. For starters, my company was sponsoring the event and it was my job to attend but I was also curious to experience how the event will pan out.
The concept was for sighted people to have dinner in the dark in order for them to have a feel of what visually impaired people go through.
At the dinner
On the evening of Friday, 30th June, 2012 I arrived at the premises of Holiday Inn, Airport to attend the event. I sighted a female colleague polishing up in her car so I decided to wait for her so we could go in together.
We were ushered into the event hall and we were met with pitch blackness and soothing live music. The ushers whose faces I couldn’t see asked, “Please, how can I help you?” and I responded, “We are trying to locate the table for First Capital Plus”. She just said ‘please hold my hand” and she walked me straight to the table reserved for First Capital Plus (now Capital Bank) in pitch darkness.
As soon as we settled on our seats, a waiter approached the table and took our orders.
My first thought was “wow, this is incredible”! The live jazzy music was very relaxing and the ambience was very soothing.
With time my eyes adjusted to the darkness and the place didn’t look as dark as it did. I tried using my phone to read the programme line-up but it was in Braille and I couldn’t make head or tail of it. The phone’s light also attracted an usher who walked up to me and politely told me to give her the phone until the event was over. I pleaded with her, apologized and switched off the phone since I was enjoying myself too much to get into any kind of “trouble”.
The corporate table was reserved for 10 people; 8 members of staff and 2 visually impaired people from the GBU.
After about 15minutes of sitting down, a well dressed gentleman joined the table and introduced himself as Alex. I could see he was wearing dark sun glasses so I assumed he was visually impaired.
I introduced myself and he replied that…“well…I am a professional blind man” in a light hearted mood and we laughed it off. Alex continued, “Nana, you can ask any question and I will be obliged to answer since the GBU also wants to take this opportunity to create some awareness about blindness”.
He spoke impeccable English, was very well mannered and he carried himself very confidently so I said to myself “this guy must be really educated”.
I told him the programme line-up was in Braille so I couldn’t read it so he picked it up and read all the items on the line-up for me. I was wowed! How did he do this? He said it wasn’t a big deal and actually gave me a few tutorials.
We discussed a whole range of issues but detailed below is snippets of our conversation.
Nana: So what do you do?
Alex: I work with the GBU and I teach blind people IT skills to make it possible for them to use the various applications as well as the various Microsoft programmes like Excel, Word, Powerpoint and the rest but for the rest of the year I work with the Electoral Commission to educate the visually impaired people on election related issues.
Nana: Wow, how do you use these applications?
Alex: Oh, it’s simple…
He actually went on to illustrate how he uses his “Apple iphone” by virtue of an application that reads messages and telephone numbers amongst others. He explained that he relies on a related application to teach visually impaired people.
Nana: so what University did you attend and how difficult or easy was it for you to cope with studies?
In his usual witty self he replied, University of Constant Confusion and we laughed it off. He meant UCC.
Alex: University life was really fun and I enjoyed it but the challenges were many! Visually impaired people need to rely on second hand information when conducting research since the library did not have books in Braille so colleagues have to conduct the research and give you a verbal brief before you can write your assignments. After writing the assignments, a resource person at the University must also transcribe the work you have done in Braille into alphabets so the Lecturer can read and mark it. “Nana, you see you had no control over your work because you know that sometimes when information is second hand, many things can be lost in translation”
“In the US where I had my Masters Degree it was relatively easier because many books were in Braille and I could also use various applications to read information from the internet and also print directly from the computer with a Braille printer. Therefore, the printed material is in Braille just like the programme line-up on the table”.
Nana: Impressive, how expensive is a Braille printer?
In his usual witty self he replied, “expensive is a relative term, you know? But it’s about $10,000
Nana: How many of these do the Akropong School of the Blind have?
Alex: Two I think
After we finished dining, a slideshow with live commentary on the activities of the GBU was shown on a projector, corporate organizations gave their goodwill messages and the lights were switched on.
A Few Thoughts
The dinner in the dark had various implications for our lives and I want to share a few thoughts.
Life is adaptable in the sense that initially the thought of having dinner in total darkness was a daunting task but later our eyes were able to adjust to the darkness and it didn’t look like such a big deal after all. People with disability (PWD) can make the best of their situation if given the necessary support and assistance. They don’t need our pity they only need our understanding and support. If a PWD has a task to perform, he or she is able to identify ways of adapting to his or her circumstances in order to perform tasks though it might take time or some training.
The concept of adaptability is applicable to life in general. Sometimes we may be faced with various challenges but we need to be optimistic and be determined to overcome it.
Government should pay critical attention to the needs of PWDs and also encourage corporate Ghana to lend a helping hand. In my interactions I was told that some tax incentives exist for companies who hire disabled people but implementation of the policy is ambiguous and or unattractive and most companies are also unaware of it. Government needs clear policy guidelines and incentives to encourage support for the disabled community.
Education of disabled people should be a priority. Special Schools like New Horizon are playing critical social intervention roles and government needs to provide the necessary funding and support. Someone like Alex is testimony that education can provide a host of opportunities for disabled people. Government spend millions of dollars in allowances and stipends for conferences and meetings but critical schools like Akropong School for the blind and other schools do not have Braille printers which cost only $10,000.
Though education may be free and compulsory at the basic level, the act of hiding a disabled child and depriving them of basic education should be a criminal offense. It also important to acknowledge that parents need some form of training and support in order for them to be able to offer the specialist care needed to take care of children with developmental challenges like autism.
The challenges are daunting and it should be approached in a holistic and integrated manner but conscientious efforts need to be made to start the journey. After all, doesn’t a journey of 1000 miles begin with a step?
It must also be stated that policies alone are not enough if they are not backed with unbridled government commitment.
Role of Corporate Ghana
Corporate Ghana should make a conscious effort at employing disabled people by allocating a specific quota to them. Most of them like Alex possess immense skills and will not be “charity cases” or a drain on the organization’s resources.
PWD’s suffer massive discrimination and are sometimes not given the opportunity to exhibit their innate abilities since society cannot see beyond the disability. Research also indicates that an able-bodied person with the same intellectual capacity as a PWD is more likely to be employed. PWD’s are more likely to earn less for the same type of a job that an able-bodied person can do.
It’s time for a more concerted effort from Government, Corporate Ghana and the society at large.