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D19 was born deaf, along with two of her five siblings. Now married to a deaf man, D19 has daughters of her own. Below, she describes her family life and living with deafness.

“Though my parents seemed to love all of us, they paid more attention to our hearing siblings than us. Because we are deaf they think we are not useful[…]. When I was young I wasn’t that happy, but when I got married I became very happy.”

“I went to deaf school but I couldn’t complete [it…]. I was struggling with the school’s activities, so I decided to stop. So my family put me into hair dressing. I learnt it for two years and opened my own salon.”

“[My family] used to support me when we were kids, but now I don’t get support from them[…]. The hairdryer I use to work got spoilt and I contacted people for help but they refused to help me. And my daughters are in school and I am paying much. So I am struggling to get money to buy one. [But i]f I have a problem I have to solve it myself.”

“I like being a deaf person because I have peace. I don’t hear what people say about me, and when you try to fight me I will not mind you.”

“People don’t isolate themselves from me; I am able to mingle with people, even the hearing people in programs, without discrimination of any form. Maybe the only problem I face is communication since most people don’t know sign language.”

“[M]ore deaf people are able to go to school now than previously. Previously, many parents used to hide their deaf children, but now you see more people taking their deaf children to school.”

“When I go to the hospital, I don’t like writing back and forth because I can’t write good English, and they also don’t have interpreters, so I take one of my children along to solve the problem. Because you need to explain everything to the doctor without hesitation.”

“Deaf people suffer too much. Even for deaf graduates the only work they allow them to do is to teach. Deaf people can also become police, nurses, doctors, but they don’t allow them to do it. They must allow deaf people to also do some of these jobs, because they can do [them].”

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Vivian Dede Nartey was born on September 18, 1966 in Agoteme Opagame of the Volta region, hailing from the Ewe ethnic group. Her mother, Florence Adwoa Asare, and father, Vincent Nartey, come from Okagyakrom and Agoteme Opagame respectively in Ghana. Currently, Vivian lives at Kpando with her nine siblings where their father works as a fisher man. She went to Dodo Amanfro School in the Volta Region for her lower primary and from there continued her upper primary at Damanko in 1979. However, Vivian could not further her education due to financial problems and she stayed in the house for three years even though she had passed her common entrance exams.

Nartey was born sighted and completed her basic and her junior high education without experiencing any eye problems until she got to high school. In 1984, she began to lose her sight when she went to Kpando Technical Institute. In her first year, she started to notice some signs that something was wrong, such as her eyes beginning to itch and experiencing blurred sight. Her teachers noticed her struggles and tried to help the situation by ensuring that she sat at the front of the class where she would have unobstructed view of the board. Unfortunately, her situation did not improve and because of her diminishing sight, reading and writing became difficult for her and she started performing poorly academically. After several months she realized that she could not see from one eye, which eventually affected the other eye. In 1985 she began having severe migraine headaches, which continued for some time. However, she was able to cope with it and completed her secondary education. She completed school in 1985 and got married. Unfortunately, Vivian had a miscarriage with her first pregnancy, which doctors later connected to her severe migraine headaches. She was referred to Kolebu hospital where she was diagnosed with glaucoma. Vivian and her family were devastated by this news, knowing that the condition was not reversible. At this point she still had some sight in one eye, so she resolved to do everything in her power to save it. As a result, in 1996 she underwent two eye surgeries in an attempt to preserve the little sight she had left. Unfortunately, this was to no avail and Vivian lost her sight completely.

Nartey’s situation had many social ramifications. Her husband was not able to reconcile with the fact that he was married to a blind woman. He, like many people, viewed disability as very negative and began to maltreat her and cheat on her. Nartey, like many women of her time, tried to bear the mistreatment for a time. When her husband began to cheat on her, however, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and she divorced him.

Taking charge of her life, Nartey moved with her two children to her family house to live with her parents. However, after a while she had to leave again because of the high level of stigmatization she experienced there. Life became so difficult that at a point Nartey felt like giving up and committing suicide. Fortunately, she met a good Samaritan who encouraged her. She managed to secure some capital from this person and began to bake and sell bread to earn her income so she could look after herself and her family. Her hardships, however, did not end here. Her trading job suffered a setback when robbers attacked her shop and stole virtually all her wares. Despite all this, Nartey refused to give up. She secured another loan and began trading again, this time in the area of kitchen utensils, determined to make it work. Nartey was more successful and found that she was able to enroll her children in school. Although Nartey lived what was a very independent life, she still did not have all the skills needed for effective independent living. In 2004 Nartey was introduced to the Ghana Association of the Blind by a blind teacher who she had met in church. She was immediately attracted to the kind of discussion and fellowship the members had with one another. Barely a month later she had joined the GAB and took part in a workshop which was organised to empower its members. She was very active at this workshop and served in part as an interpreter for those individuals who did not understand English. This program had a profound effect on Nartey, and she began to get more involved in the activities of the GAB. Her zeal and energy were noticed by some of the leaders of the GAB and they suggested Nartey stand for leadership positions. Greatly encouraged by this, on her return to her home district of Kpandu she devoted her energies to the mobilization of blind women to join the organisation. Later in 2007, she was able to organize a workshop geared at empowering blind people in the district. Not surprisingly Nartey became the women’s coordinator for the Volta region in 2007. She used her newly acquired lobbying skills to secure support from the district assembly for the efforts of the GAB to organize more programs in her districts. Nartey also targeted blind children who were not in school and advocated for support from the local authorities to put these children in school. These activities took her through the length and breadth of the region, including to the very little villages whenever she learned of the presence of blind children not in school. Wherever it was established that the parents could not afford to put the children in school or did not see the need to, Nartey through her education campaign lobbied for admission for these children and money from churches and other institutions to pay for the fees of them.

As an executive member of the regional branch of the GAB Nartey did a lot of advocacy on the radio and in public meetings. In 2010 she was elected to the position of regional Public Relations Officer. Later in 2012 she became the regional President and held this position until 2018 when she was elected as the National Vice-President of the Ghana Blind Union. Nartey is a mentor to many young people in the Volta region. Apart from her involvement in the activities of GBU, she is also very active in community affairs. For instance, in 2015 she contested for the position of Assembly Woman for the Kpandu district. Although she lost this contest, it greatly boosted her confidence and inspired her to advocate more for the rights of blind people. Nartey was also instrumental in the establishing of many district branches for her organizations.

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Prince Akonnor, who is 43 years old and belongs to the Ewe ethnic group, hails from Ho in Volta Region. He grew up together with his four siblings and his parents, though his father has passed away. Both of Akonnor’s parents were involved in trading. Akonnor started his early education at Prince of Peace Preparatory School in Ho. After he completed his education here, he continued at Pope Jones Senior High for a period and then went to Akropong School for the Blind, before ending at Okuapeman Senior High School in 1994.

Akonnor enjoyed his early life as a sighted boy together with his family until he started experiencing problems with his eyes in 1991. He reported this to his parents and was quickly taken to the hospital. Much to their disappointment he was diagnosed with glaucoma, though the doctors asked them to return for further tests. Meanwhile, Akonnor was given other medications. Unfortunately, this was to no avail. The doctors informed Akonnor’s parents that in order to save his sight he would have to undergo surgery. Sadly, the family was unable to raise the money for the surgery. Akonnor’s family was devastated and did not know what to do, even trying local treatment without success. Eventually Akonnor became totally blind in 1990.

At the initial state of Akonnor’s blindness, it was not easy to live in his community because a lot of people associated the cause of his disability with witchcraft and other spiritual things. Others even went to the extreme by saying he was given to the parents by a fetish priest and other spiritual practitioners. As a result, he experienced a lot of stigmatization and discrimination in his community. Akonnor’s parents became very worried and started seeking help from religious leaders, herbalist, pastors, and more, but nothing they did could help restore his sight.

One day, a social worker in the community went to Akonnor’s parent and advised them to take him to school. Mr. and Mrs. Akonnor, who had both lost hope in the future of their son, saw no reason why a blind boy should be taken to school. They had little or no idea about the capabilities of blind individuals. At that moment, the only thing they cared about was their son’s safety. The social worker educated the parents, however, and convinced them to enroll their son. Akonnor was enrolled in Okuapeman and did a one-year program. After successfully completing the course, he applied to Akropong Presbyterian Training College. After his course at the training college, he gained admission to the University of Cape Coast in the year 2000 and studied for a first degree, finishing in 2004.

After his education, Akonnor applied to a couple of companies and schools for employment, but all these efforts were in vein. He stayed home for about six years until he was offered a teaching job at Adaklo in the Volta region. Before he was offered the teaching job, he was a casual labourer at the National Coalition of Civic Education until he forwarded his application to the Adaklo educational service to be employed permanently. Akonnor was the only blind teacher in the school and taught religious and moral education.

Akonnor’s romantic life has not been bad, in fact he has enjoyed every bit of his marriage regardless of the normal ups and downs in relationships. Akonnor had three children in his previous relationships before he met his wife, however this was not an obstacle in his marriage. In the initial stage of their marriage rites, the family of the lady were hesitant to allow their daughter to marry a blind person. However, with some persuasion the parents of the lady agreed and gave them the chance to perform the rites. After that Akonnor and his wife lived happily as a family.

Akonnor heard about Ghana Association of the Blind when he was in Akropong School for the Blind. Although Akonnor really admired the association and wanted to join, he could not find a way to. Akonnor spoke with one Mr. Ofori who kept educating the students about the association, and invited Akonnor to proceed with his application. Two years after becoming a member, Akonnor contested for the regional secretary position and won. He later served as the president for the Ho municipality in 2014. In both positions, Akonnor has been able to help the members of his district branch to access their common fund. He has invested energy and time into educating drivers and other road users about the importance of the white cane. He also took part in the organization of workshops for his people and attended regional conventions.

In the Ho municipality, the biggest challenge blind people face is lack of finances to establish themselves. Also, the society tends to pity blind people. According to Akonnor, this kind of attitude erodes the little self-confidence blind individuals have in themselves.  Akonnor continues to educate the people to have empathy instead of sympathy towards blind persons in the society. Akonnor does not see blindness as a punishment or as a disability, but as a unique way of life. He believes blindness is an opportunity to instead use the other four senses of the body and encourages all blind individuals and parents with blind children not to give up but rather push for education. He encourages blind people by expressing that their situation is nothing close to disability, and that they have a lot of hidden talents and capabilities. Aside from the common fund, Akonnor wishes that the government will make policies that will incorporate and help blind people in their access to public facilities. Akonnor encourages the Ghana Blind Union to do more to empower its members. He thinks that empowering blind people will help them to do away with the stigmatization they go through in the society and will them to rise and occupy higher positions in the community while bringing out the best in them.

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D13 was born with the ability to hear, but an illness at a young age resulted in his deafness. D13 is now a carpenter at a furniture company, but he has concerns about receiving the support he needs to establish his own business. Below are his reflections on the experience of hearing loss.

“When [my illness] happened, my parents took me to the hospital for medical check-ups.[…] I was not sent to prayer camps.”

“I attended normal school with my friends until I became deaf[…]. [L]ater I was enrolled into the School for the Deaf. I completed Junior High School but could not enter Senior High School because I failed my exams.”

“[Because] our teachers taught us by speech and I could hear my teacher’s voice a bit but my mates couldn’t, […] after lessons all my mates would come to me and ask me to help them. In the past we had more hearing teachers but there are more deaf teachers presently.”

“I have siblings who are hearing. Our parents’ attitude towards us has been the same. In the family there’s no preferential treatment. […However,] the family does not involve me in family affairs.”

“Being deaf, I feel that I cannot hear when my friends talk, but I try to listen at times by reading lips[…]. I really want to hear again so that I can communicate by speech.”

“I attend the hospital often. It’s all fine. More deaf people can go to the hospital but there are no deaf doctors. The challenge I faced in the hospital is whenever I went there I would sit for long hours – I could not hear if my name was called[…]. There are not interpreters in the hospital.”

“[The a]ttitude of people towards the deaf is better today than as happened in the past. […Yet] a lot of people are focused on helping persons who are blind and those with physical disabilities. The attention received by deaf people is not welcoming. Disabled people […] get information faster than us. When there is something to share among all disabled people, they will be the first […]. They always inform the deaf late. Treatment is not the same.”

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D6 and his twin brother were both born deaf. After discovering this, D6’s parents sought various cures for the deafness, though without success. D6 was then enrolled in a school for the deaf where his step-father taught, and he is currently in senior high school. Here he discusses his experiences growing up as a deaf person.

“[When] my parents realized that I could not hear they sent me to the hospital for diagnosis and treatment. This didn’t work so I was sent to the priest and was given some bitter drugs to drink. Yet, I could not hear so my parents sent me to the traditionalist. We did not get the desired result. My mother was very much worried so she tried all the means available to her.

“When I got admitted to Kibi school for the deaf, the feeling was good.[…] I did not know sign language but I often went around to socialize with my school mates and […] I was feeling very much excited because my father was always there to help me.

“After junior high school, I asked my mother to help me to secure a job with a construction company, but this did not work out because I was told that until I completed senior high school I could not be employed.”

“With all the support I have received, I feel very much satisfied. When I was in need of help, the family always there. Anything I need, I received. My mother was very much supportive. [However] I do not feel very much included because I am very young and I have to take care of my younger siblings so I have not been included that much in the affairs of the family.”

“My parents believed that I had a future so they always threw their support behind me. They never wanted to leave me because I am deaf. In the family, whether you are deaf or hearing you will be treated equally. But I and my twin brother received much attention because of our deafness.”

“When I was very young, my parents took very good care of me. They did a lot for me in the past, but presently they feel that I am an adolescent now and I can care for myself, so they do not offer the same treatment. The way deaf people are treated depends on their families. I think some of them who have a good family background are better treated than those from poor families. Other families left their deaf children.

“I think other disabled people are treated better than the deaf. The idea is that most people believe that deaf people can do anything; they have eyes, they can walk, they have hands and can do so the people do not see any problem in a deaf person. People feel that the condition of other disabled people is more dangerous so they pay more attention to them than to the deaf.”

“I wondered why I became deaf. I feel that I am saved because for some people if you are deaf, your family will not take good care of you because the idea is that if you are deaf you are useless. But I have come this far with the help of my parents and I am very much happy for this.

“I am in school now and this makes me proud. I never feel worried as a deaf person. I am very happy because I know that it was the purpose of God. I want to be successful in the future as a deaf person. I never want to regain my hearing ability because hearing comes with lots of negatives. For example, people insult you and you can hear them, which can easily make you angry; but in the deaf community things like this oftentimes have been taken as a joke. If I were hearing, a lot could have been said about me but as deaf person, I am free and cannot hear all these. Hearing people deceive, so I do not want to become like them. I am happy as deaf.”

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D5 was born able to hear, but became deaf at a young age. As she says, “I was sent to prayer camps and hospitals for a cure, but all to no avail.” From that early age, D5 has navigated life as a deaf person.

“[M]y father went to Winneba to look for a school for me to attend.”

“I went to Hohoe school for the deaf when I was five years old and I completed in 2014. I also had access to secondary education but couldn’t continue due to financial challenges; so I went into dressmaking as a profession. All the teachers took good care of us and our relationship grew fine. But the use of sign language was a problem because most of our teachers at the time could not use [it].”

“Access [to education] has improved well, and teaching is progressing steadily, and enrolment is increasing because of the high birth rates of deaf children.”

“Access to healthcare is good now. Deaf people get assistance from doctors and nurses all the time. Previously, we used to communicate in writing on paper because there was no interpreter, but today we have some interpreters who accompany us. The availability of sign language has given room for more deaf people to access healthcare.”

“My family members felt guilty when they found out I was deaf, but I do not feel sad. I am happy as a deaf person and I feel satisfied with all the support I have received from everyone.”

“[But though] I am deaf I wish that I could hear again because it would enable me to understand better. If I am able to hear, I can speak with [friends and family] and sign language will not be needed.”

“People have called me ‘mumu’ because I cannot hear and talk. This hurts badly, but anytime my friends or relatives heard about this insult they would come to my defence.”

According to D5, “[h]earing people think that deaf people cannot do anything because they cannot hear. This is a wrong impression and must be changed.”

At the same time, though, D5 has noticed that “most disabled people had better treatment than the deaf. People see their condition as something that deserves special attention and needing better care. People believe that deaf can do everything except to hear.”

“I share my concerns or problems with the leadership of the deaf community in my district and a few of my friends. Whenever I do, they take time to sit with me, advise, and encourage me.”

“[A] friend helped me to look for employment and I found work at the University of Education in Winneba. At work, the relationship between me and my boss was good.”