Steven Amponsah Nketia was born August 20, 1948 to Mr. John Kwabena Nketia and Mrs. Hannah Ofobi in a farming community in Akim Oda, situated in the Eastern region of Ghana. He hails from the Akyem ethnic group, a sub-group of the Akan. His father was a sanitary inspector and health worker and his mother was a farmer. Nketia is the eldest child of his parents and has five siblings, though one has since passed away. He started his early level of education at the Oda government Primary School, which has now been changed to a High School. He was a very brilliant child with very good academic records.
In 1956, when Nketia was eight years old and in class three, he went out to play football with his friends during break time. While they were playing on the field, one of the students threw a stone which hit Nketia’s right eye. He was quickly rushed to the hospital and upon their arrival was attended to and put on some medication, but things started getting worse each day. His parents became worried and started moving him from one hospital to another. Many eye specialists came to treat the Nketia to help him regain his sight, but all efforts were in vain. Though Nketia’s parents could not afford surgery they did not give up on their little son and kept pushing until they met a German doctor called Dr. Hoppin Buurd. Dr Hoppin Buurd also ran several tests hoping to help fix the little boy’s sight, but all attempts were to no avail.
Nketia’s parents became very distressed and did not know what to do. In fact, they were ready to try any kind of medication at all. One day, their neighbor recommended an herbalist to Nketia’s parents. Upon hearing about the wonders the herbalist had been performing, they quickly packed their things and took little Nketia there. When they got there, the herbalist prepared some concoction and poured some few drops into Nketia’s eye, who by this point was helpless and very desperate to try anything at all. As soon as the drops were put into his eye he began crying, indicating how much he was suffering. This aroused his grandmother’s curiosity to find out what the concoction was made of. The next day, she followed the herbalist to his garden unnoticed and found out that the herbalist was using cassava leaves, a favorite root crop of the Akan, to prepare the concoction. Out of anger, she quickly went to the house and packed their things and took them back to their hometown Oda. Other herbalist came to try and help Nketia, but they eventually failed and could not restore his sight. One herbalist came who was believed to have hailed from the northern part of Ghana and possess some spiritual powers. This person requested items such as the eyes of fish, needles, goats, sheep and other strange objects. Nketia’s parents got all the items he requested and called the herbalist to start with the treatment, but surprisingly the man requested for human blood. At this Nketia’s parents became angry and threw the supposed healer out of the house. A common cultural belief was that spiritual forces could negatively affect the lives of people, and since the cause of Nketia’s blindness was baffling his family began to attribute his misfortune to this. Members of the community also attributed the cause of his blindness to witchcraft.
This remained the situation until one day when Nketia’s cousin, who was a social worker, came to visit the family at Oda. Upon seeing her little cousin’s situation, she encouraged him and told Nketia’s parents about the Akropong School for the Blind in the Eastern region. She immediately arranged for Nketia to be enrolled into the school. About a month later, the headmaster of the school, Mr. Godfred Alexandre Sakyi Amoako, drove to Oda and collected little Nketia’s details and gave the family the date they should report to the school. He gave Nketia’s parents a copy of the filled documents and instructed that he be brought to school. In January 1956, Steven was enrolled at Akropong School for the Blind. The headmaster and his wife were very good to him.
He started his studies at class one with only five other students in the class. Nketia showed active interest in school activities. He joined the Boys Scout, Scripture Union, and participated in sports such as goalball and swings, and other games in the school. Nketia completed middle school in 1964 and applied to Pope Jones Senior High School and Saint Martin’s Senior High but could not continue his education at the high school level because there was no money to fund his education. Nketia continued at the Akropong School for the Blind, where he took a secretarial course, and trained as a typist and stereographer. Though his parents did not have the money to send him to school Nketia did not feel discriminated against, rather he saw it as a situation of poverty. When he completed the secretarial school in 1967, two teachers in Akropong School for the Blind got scholarship to United Kingdom for training. As a result, there was an opening that Nketia filled, receiving a one-year contract to work as a pupil’s teacher at Akropong School for the Blind. After the one year, when the teachers returned from UK and took over their duties, he returned to Oda unemployed. He kept looking for a job for two years but could not get any work. His parents were devastated but they did not give up on him. His mother helped look everywhere to get her son a job, but all efforts were in vain. There were opportunities to teach but because of his disability and the nature of the job he was not employed.
Nketia’s family went to the Ghana Society for the Blind for help to further his education. The Society asked his parents to enroll him in school and care for him for the first year, and the Society would take over from his second year onward, but his parents did not have the means to enroll him. In 1970 Mr. Nomah, who was then the head of the School for the Blind, employed him as a braillist. His job was to create braille textbooks and other reading materials for the pupils which he did for about four years. In 1974, he started studying for the GCE O level. He wrote his first exam in 1974 and passed four papers but failed English. He wrote it the following year and passed. Nketia, who wanted to experience other working environments, went to the ministries and talked to several employers there. Through this he was able to secure an appointment in July 1976 as a stereographer at the Ministry of Justice. Nketia enjoyed working there, and did not experience any discrimination from his colleagues, until 1979.
In 1980, the International Society for the Blind organized a program for five African countries, aimed at teaching the people how to use sophisticated brailling machines. Nketia was selected and went to Germany for five weeks in January to February of 1980 before returning home. He made provision to continue his education and contacted a friend who had gotten a scholarship in the UK to assist him in securing funds to take a course there. Fortunately, the Lutheran World Federation offered to sponsor him, and he gained admission to a school managed by Southern London Association for the Blind. With this support, he secured admission at the Southernton Institute of Higher Education and studied public administration from 1982 to 1984. After the course, he applied to Brunel University at west London and did a post-graduate diploma, followed by a Master of Arts program in public and social administration which he completed in 1986. After the course, he stayed in the UK for one year and then went back to Ghana to join his family at Oda.
Nketia’s younger brother Yaw, who had also become blind at a young age, was in the house waiting to be enrolled into school. Their mother, who was left with them after divorcing their father and taking the blame for the cause of her children’s disability, was looking for any means to support her children. Their father had tried all means to solve Yaw’s eye problem, but eventually abandoned them and left the children with their mother. As an Akan proverb says, “it is the hen that takes care of the chicks and not the cock.” When Yaw finally lost his sight, the society began blaming their mother for her children’s disability. Some people sympathized with the mother, however, others said she might have offended someone and was paying for it, while others said she might have been cursed. They attributed the cause to many spiritual things, but Nketia’s mother stood firm and never gave herself the chance to be intimidated by the society. Nketia encouraged his brother, who went through almost the same blind experience, supported him, and got him enrolled in school. His brother completed his junior high school and got enrolled into senior high school with support from the Ghana Society for the Blind.
In 1987, Nketia, who had then taken a study leave with pay from the Ministry of Education, went back to the classroom after returning from the UK and became a welfare teacher of social studies and English. In 1991, he went to the University of Cape Coast to do a PDCE course and gain official recognition as a professional teacher. In August 1995, Mrs. Bonsu, the executive director for the Society for the Blind, came to see him and asked him to join her coordinate a project she was handling. Mrs. Bonsu wanted a visually impaired person to assist her to render her services to the blind people. Nketia accepted the offer and started working with the Society for the Blind in 1995, where he worked three days of the week with them and two days at the Akropong School for the Blind. The headmaster of Akropong School for the Blind gave Nketia an ultimatum to either work for the school as a full-time teacher or be evicted from the school bungalow where he resided. Nketia was left with no choice but to quit working with Society for the Blind and become a full-time teacher. He taught at Akropong School for the Blind until 2001 when Special Education requested for representatives in all the districts. About seven of the teachers, including Nketia, were chosen. He who was posted to Kede in the Eastern region as special education coordinator, until August 20, 2008 when he retired.
Nketia proved to be a disability rights activist and devoted much of his time to the establishment and organization of the Ghana Association of the Blind as well as being one of the pioneers who came together to found the association. They held their first meeting at Nsawam in the Eastern region in 1963, where the association was formally launched. As a young person, he had the opportunity to meet the founding fathers of the Ghana Association of the Blind. These included Mr. Berkoe, Ansom, Luthorout, Huum, Kofi Bour, Paul Dotsito and others. It was during his school days at the Akropong School for the Blind when in 1963 the joint founders Berkoe and Anson met the students and convinced them of the need to join the new organization. At that point in time the main organization that sought to address the rights and welfare of blind people was the Ghana Society for the Blind. This organization was made up of persons who had the interest of blind people at heart but were not necessarily blind themselves. In fact, over 90% of its membership was made up of non-blind individuals. Nketia, and others, wanted there to be a new organization formed that was made up of blind individuals themselves. As a result, Nketia and his colleagues bought up the idea of forming the association, realizing how positively the association could contribute to their lives. Later in that same year of 1963 they met and founded the GAB and started forming regional branches. Nketia became an active member of the GAB and played a major role in the creation of district branches in the Eastern region. He also represented the GAB on many radio programs, advocating for the rights of blind persons. He became an Executive member of the Oda district branch, and later in 1985 he was elected as secretary for the Eastern region branch. In 1988 he was further elected as President for the Eastern region, which made him a member of the National Executive Council of the organization. At the congress of 1993, Nketia contested against Paul Dotsi, one of the founding fathers, for the position of National president. Unfortunately, he was not successful in this venture.
The main aims for GAB at the time were; exemptions for blind people from paying fares when joining government buses (STC), special seats to be reserved for blind persons in on public transportation, employment inclusion, and recognition of the white cane as part of the blind traffic code. To a large extent these advocacy goals were achieved. During the regime of President Rawlings from 1992 to 2000 the Ghana Education Service introduced a policy to remove all craft instructors from the Ghana education service. Since most craft instructors were blind persons and therefore were in danger of losing their jobs, GAB saw this as a legitimate advocacy issue. Nketia was at the forefront of this struggle. He, along with other leaders of the organization, held many meetings with the educational authorities asking for a policy amendment to favor craft instructors. They were able to negotiate a compromise with the government in that craft instructors who were already in the Education service would be allowed to keep their jobs, but new craft instructors would not be employed henceforth.
Nketia was also part of a local GAB wing. When he went to Kede in 2002, before the GAB was rewriting the constitution in 1984, they asked GAB members to pay a certain fee, which Nketia paid. A meeting was held and there was a misunderstanding between Nketia and Mr. Plahar, the then president. When they were rewriting the constitution, they brought in some new guidelines for payment dues which Nketia disagreed with. In response, Mr. Plahar told Nketia to leave if he was not in support of the new proposal. Nketia felt disrespected and wrote a resignation letter to the president, but his request was not approved. After some time, the Kede branch held an election and elected Nketia as their branch president. When he was presented at the national level, Mr. Plahar opposed this, and wrote several letters to the branch and Nketia himself requesting he relinquish his post. The pair started sending each other cold letters which Nketia termed the “War of Letters.” Nketia felt his rights were being infringed upon and wrote to Mr. Koray, the then national president, asking him to intervene. After a month, the GAB held a meeting at Kede where the issue between Nketia and Mr. Plahar was brought up. Mr. Koray asked Nketia to relinquish his post since he had already presented a resignation letter. Nketia felt the issue was not well addressed, however, he stepped down as district president and after an election was held in 2003 handed it over to Yaw Debra. Mr. Debra presented the issue to the national level where it was addressed properly and the ban on Nketia was raised. In 2007 Nketia was re-elected to the district presidency of the Kade branch. The year prior he had been elected as the chairman of the Ghana Federation of Disability Organizations for the district. He currently holds this position.