This is the story of Edward Narh Tawiah, or Kofi, a fifty-two-year-old man from Tafo near Kumasi who lost a leg in a motorbike accident in 2008. His story highlights the difficulties he faced during recovery, the amount of support he has received from family and friends, and how disabled people have been treated by the government and by society more broadly over the years.
Accident and recovery
In 2008, Edward was in a motorbike accident while travelling from Akim Tafo to Bunso. He was taken to the hospital where his left leg was eventually amputated just below the knee. It ended up being a very expensive hospital visit, but Edward was fortunate that friends were able to help him pay the hospital fees. In the aftermath of the accident, Edward had to use crutches, but his mobility was still severely limited; he had to rely on family members to help him bathe. It also put his livelihood in jeopardy, since his job as a carpenter at Bunso Cocoa College entailed a great deal of physical labour and some of his managers didn’t think he could continue working.
By 2009, Edward received a prosthetic leg, first an ill-fitting one from the orthopedic centre at Nsawam, and then a better one that he got from an American NGO through the Ministry of Health in Accra. As a result, Edward has regained some of his mobility – he doesn’t need to rely on his family for washing and meals, and he’s still employed, now in a supervisory role overseeing other workers. He’s even able to maintain some farm land at his cottage.
While his prosthetic leg has been crucial to his recovery, it has also come with its own difficulties, especially financial ones. Edward’s leg requires occasional repairs and adjustments, some of which cost as much as 600 cedis. And it is that sort of financial burden that leads Edward to reflect on the difficulties faced by disabled people in Ghana more generally. For, as he points out, similar situations are encountered by a large number of disabled people, many of whom are in a more dire financial position than his own.
Living with a disability
Edward offers an instructive perspective on the difficulties that he and others face. In one area of concern, he explains ways in which the government could do a better job responding to the needs of people with disabilities, such as through a better insurance program. Edward notes that the cost of equipment (such as wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs), medication, and hospital and clinic visits puts a great strain on disabled people, and those expenses should be better covered by the government. In addition, he explains that he and others need more government support when a disability prevents education or employment, or makes it difficult to pay children’s school fees. Edward also explains the wider importance of such a system – it should be in place universally, because major accidents can happen to anyone.
There are also a number of social situations that pose problems to disabled people. The lack of assistance when boarding a bus or queueing at the bank, for instance, puts extra strains on the daily lives of disabled people. There is also inconsistent treatment from the wider community, whether at church or in public. Edward notes cases of charity – food and money provided to disabled people and their families – but also a significant amount of stigma. Often, charity is given without care or concern, with condescension, or not at all. Disabled people in need are often ignored in the streets. And negative terms, such as the Twi word obubuafoɔɔ, are often directed at Edward and others. Edward himself isn’t too concerned with such language, at least when it’s is aimed at him – to him, his accident is simply something that happened in the past. He does admit, though, that his disability has become the primary way that many people define him.
In the years since his accident, then, Edward has noticed no positive change in how disabled people are treated in Ghana, whether by the government or by fellow citizens. To illustrate this further, Edward points out that the financial burden has actually increased – when his accident occurred, prosthetic limbs were covered by the government; but now there are significant costs that come with getting and maintaining a prosthesis. Moreover, disability legislation is still largely unknown and poorly understood by Ghanaian population, Edward included.
One cultural change that Edward does mention is how in his youth or earlier, infant exposure was purportedly practiced in some cases where babies were born with mental or physical disabilities. However, as the understanding of the causes of disability has changed, such practices have disappeared.
Family and friends
While some friends and family were crucial to Edward’s recovery, others have offered much less support or contact. The core of his support has come from his immediate family, his wife and children. It was them who provided physical and emotional support in the first days and weeks, when Edward was least able to move independently and when he feared his life was over. And they have continued to provide help in the years since. He has also received help of various sorts from many friends. Some have provided financial support, to cover medical costs and school fees. Others have provided support in more discreet ways, whether by making sure to visit Edward, or by walking at a slower pace to ensure that he isn’t left behind.
On the other hand, there are many people in Edward’s life who have been less helpful. His brothers and sisters, sometimes because of their own financial problems, have offered little help, so much so that it seemed at times to Edward like they had forgotten about him. Many friends, too, have stopped contacting him since the accident. And at work, some people showed little concern for Edward after his accident, and perhaps even conspired to get him fired. Others, however, helped him to transition into his new supervisory role.
What Edward’s story reveals is a situation in Ghana where there is wide recognition of many disabilities, along with institutional support through hospitals and clinics, but where profound social and structural problems persist and where better government support is sorely needed. As Edward readily admits, it is his family and personal relationships that allowed him to make it through the accident and recovery period, to obtain an adequate prosthesis, and to reestablish a livelihood. That reality means that others, those who cannot rely on the same personal networks, can and do face much more dire outlooks.
In his own words
“In the year 2008 I had an accident through a motorbike on my way […] from Akim Tafo to Bunso. [I was] sent to the Hospital […] for a surgical [procedure]. I lost my left leg below the knee about four inches down.[…] I worked at Bunso Cocoa College, but because I’m one of the amputees I’m no more to work like a carpenter again. So they have just stationed me at one point to supervise the workers; when they just come back from work I ask them what they have done at the field. And then I just put in a report.
“Especially my wife and my children [have] treated me very very well. They take good care of me. Because it was a time that I couldn’t go to the washroom. They had to help me to bathe, so on and so forth. […] And I have some of the friends who come to me and visit, […but] there are other friends who doesn’t come to see me at all. I don’t know the reason why. And my entire family, like my brothers and my sisters, they sometimes forget me.[…] Sometimes I feel very bad, especially about my brothers and sisters […] but we are not at loggerheads. When I see them I greet them. But it’s ok now.
“[When I was first in the hostpital] I felt very bad because I knew I could not get up again. [I thought] ‘That’s the end of my life; I’ll be in a position in which I cannot move’. But I have the advice from [a friend abroad] that there’s some special amputee legs which he arranged for me. And was able to get me one. And since then I’m happy. But at the beginning I was very worried.
“First I got the leg from the orthopedic centre at Nsawam, but that one was not all that good. Then [through and American NGO and] the head office of the Ministry of Health at Accra […I got] another one which is very good to me. So I keep going for changes when there’s a problem with it.[…] First it was free; this time it takes some money. […] It depends on the type of repairs you are going to do. The last time I was there, about three or four months ago, the foot busts so I have to change it. And then the clothes that I have to use for my leg. That takes me about 600 cedis plus. […] Some [repairs] are less and some are high. Even the brace at the leg is very costly.[…] I attended [the clinic at the Cocoa Research Institute in Tafo] for the dressing [on my leg]. After that, normally I don’t [visit the clinic] frequently. Sometimes once in a while then I visit the hospital.
“Now because of my leg I can move to the bathroom, I can wash my clothes, and if I need food I can even go outside and take food. At my cottage I have some small land which I farm. So in the beginning I have it difficult and I need a lot of help for physical challenges. But right now I can move as the leg is fixed to me.
“The government organizations treat [disabled people] very bad. Because when there’s a fund to help, they don’t give them according to what they need. […] Some of them have wheelchairs that are broken and they find it difficult to push it. And sometimes too the crutches. […] Those things I think it should be free, but we pay for it. […And] most of us have children before this happens […and] they say there’s free education, but you have to purchase a lot of books and it’s difficult. So I think that if the government can help [us] to have free education for [our] children. […And many of us] don’t attend school at all and we don’t have any work to do. So those people too need a help. At least every month the little that they can afford, for them too. […T]here’s no insurance for disabilities, and that’s what is very needed. Because anything can happen that you just fall down or something can hurt you. So it’s good that all the disabilities should be insured by the government.
“The person who is [physically disabled] we call that in Twi obubuafoɔ, who use the crutches or use the wheelchair. […] Sometimes […] in case somebody’s looking for me, they somebody would just say: ‘Kofi, who is one of the amputees…’. [But] for me I don’t feel bad because it has already happened, and sometimes if somebody just were to describe you as it’s like the person doesn’t know you. Sometimes […what we] need, is like when you are in the bus the disabled should be first to take before [the others]. But a lot of people doesn’t buy it. And then at the same time when you’re in a queue, they should serve you before everybody but they don’t buy this.[…] So it’s difficult, isn’t it. People don’t just give [charity] out […and] it’s just like nobody cares about [disabled people in their community].”
But while not much has improved in the time since his accident, there have been some changes since his childhood and earlier:
“[There were few disabled people] from my childhood […b]ecause sometimes when somebody gave birth to such a baby they just said it’s a taboo. So they’ll just tell the mother your baby is from the water or tree or forest, they have to pass him away. They have to send the child to the big forest and tell the mother not to look back. But now we know that it’s never a taboo.”