National | Opinion

Ruth Gladstone: The psychology of disability and the Ghanaian context

Photo source: Disability Insider

Disability is inevitably part of all Homo sapiens. Biologically, we are prone to be exposed to some form of disability at some point in life-temporarily or permanently.

In 2004, the Global Burden of Diseases reported that 15.3% of the world's population had moderate or severe disability, comprising 978 million people at the time. Currently, over 1 billion people experience some form of disability worldwide.

What then is disability? The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes disability as any impairment in a person's body structure that restricts his or her ability to perform an activity in a way or within the range considered to be normal for a human being.

This implies that the individual's physical impairment is the cause of his/her disability. This definition has however been contrasted by several models. One such model is the Capability Approach developed by A. K. Sen.

According to the Capability Approach, disability can best be understood as deprivation in terms of the interaction of an individual's personal characteristics, availability of assets, and the environment. From the Capability Approach, disability occurs when an individual is deprived of practical opportunities and social amenities as a result of impairment.

Disability does not necessarily constitute the presence of physical or mental impairment, but rather, what an individual can do in the right context. Therefore, a disabled person's inability to perform regular activities should be viewed as resulting from the unavailability of resources needed by the person.

For instance, are there enough sign language interpreters in the society; particularly in schools and healthcare delivery centres? Are brailles readily available to the visually impaired? Aside staircases, do buildings include elevators and ramps as part of their structures? These questions point out the fact that a person's impairment is not mainly the cause of their incapacity.

Rather, to a large extent, society's infrastructural discrimination excludes persons with impairment from development projects. The Capability Approach stresses that states owe disabled persons an obligation to help them reach their potential as humans.

As an independent state, Ghana also has a disability act which protects the rights of persons living with an impairment. What are the implications for the implementation of the disability act of Ghana?

The Disability Act of Ghana is an Act per article 29 of the Constitution that spells out some rights and privileges for the disabled. The Act comprises 61 clauses which focus on the rights, accessibility, employment, education, transportation and healthcare of persons living with an impairment. Even though the Act promises them good living conditions, as well as a reduction in exploitation and discrimination against them, very little has been done to implement the Act.

Some of these include the National Health Insurance Act 2012, (Act 852) the Education Act 2008 (Act 778) and the Labour Act 2003 (Act 651). A focus on the implementation of one major aspect of the disability act – access to education (Act 778) – using the Capability Approach is needed to help formulate better policies.

The Education Act 2008 (Act 778), in line with the Sustainable Development Goal 4, aims at providing accessible education for the disabled. The Act, therefore, seeks to ensure that education is made for "all" regardless of one's sex, physical disability, tribe, economic status or geographic location.

Unfortunately, most educational facilities in the typical Ghanaian community are not friendly to the disabled. For a very long time, inclusive education for all has been limited to only gender basis. It is high time conscious effort is made to include or have the physically challenged in mind when erecting educational structures.

Therefore, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders in both the public and private sectors, policymakers must engage in dialogues that aim at promoting the advocacy and actualisation of an all-inclusive education in the community.

An all-inclusive education goes beyond learning a few subjects in a formal structure called a school – it encompasses the ability to interact with others through socialisation, in addition to the acquisition of educational resources and materials.

Disabling environment: the crippled

I have lived for a little over two decades in Accra, specifically in one of the coastal towns called Teshie. I schooled in two different private schools for my primary and Junior High School education. I then proceeded to a government school for my Senior High School education.

The school buildings, neither the private nor government, were friendly to the crippled. A flight of stairs led one to the next floor of each building-no ramps or elevators. This experience depicts the reality of several crippled persons in our community as a people.

The crippling effect of this is the high turnout of dropouts among disabled persons, long periods of absenteeism, and the lack of motivation to go to school, as most disabled children have to travel several kilometres to access a barrier-free learning environment.

To curb this, stakeholders in the education sector, both private and government, as well as district assemblies and heads of institutions (as stipulated in Act 778) must renovate old school buildings or erect new ones to accommodate persons with an impairment.

Communication barrier: speech and hearing impaired

As mentioned earlier, education encompasses the socialisation aspect as well. However, in the typical Ghanaian community, there is little or no kind of socialisation between speech and hearing impaired people and able-speaking persons due to the barriers in communication.

For this reason, most speech and hearing impaired individuals are isolated, they feel left out, depressed, lonely, and misunderstood. From a personal viewpoint, I believe introducing Sign language as a subject of study, preferably in our basic schools, is crucial to bridging the gap between able-speaking people and speech and hearing impaired persons.

The Government of Ghana is laudable for introducing sign language studies in teacher training colleges; even though there are only a few deaf and dumb schools, which I believe must be addressed as well.

The problem with this however is: only individuals who have attended Teacher training colleges might be able to socialise with speech and hearing impaired individuals; besides, psychology has proven that language acquisition is easier during childhood development years.

Hence, introducing sign language in our basic schools would not only widen the scope of persons who can communicate in sign language but will also expedite easy retention and comprehension if learnt during childhood development.

Limited resources (brailles, white canes, learning facilities etc.): the visually impaired

In 2022, the Ghana Health Service estimated that there were about 230,000 visually impaired persons, including children of school-going age, in Ghana. The majority of these individuals have no formal education due to their socioeconomic background and proximity to an educational facility.

For instance, there are only about five schools in Ghana for the blind, which are grossly underfunded and under-resourced. In order to access formal education, most visually impaired individuals must travel several kilometres from their residence.

And even at the school, they do not have enough resources such as brailles to facilitate learning. It is necessary that the government ensures enough provision of brailles to visually impaired students while reviewing its education for all policy.

As indicated earlier, the Capability Approach stresses that states owe disabled persons an obligation to help them reach their potential as humans.

Irrefutably, disability is not merely an individual's physical deficit; it is what a person cannot do due to societal infrastructural discrimination and environmental barriers.


The author, Ruth Gladstone, is an aspiring writer. She holds a degree in English and Psychology from University of Ghana, and also has a strong interest in youth advocacy and mental health. You can contact her via email at

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.

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