‘Trudging through the contours of life’: Experiencing Disability Stigma and its Impact on Individuals and their Families

This SSHRC-funded project explores disability and stigma in Ghana, with a particular focus on mental illness.

Disability stigma is a global problem that can take multiple forms, informed by local cultural traditions as well as broader systemic social barriers (United Nations Enable, 2011b; Naami & Hayashi, 2012). The problem is especially acute in West Africa, where cultural, social and religious traditions, combined with limited social services access and poverty, reinforce disability stigma. Yet the specific drivers of stigma remain under-researched, reflected by a dearth of literature on disability stigma in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This project intends to make a targeted contribution to knowledge about West African disability stigma. Using Ghana as a case study, the research will collect and assess Ghanaian primary data. The research focuses on the societal drivers of disability stigma in Ghana and is centered on four objectives: 1. To identify the challenges faced by individuals with disability and their families and access to support services; 2. To analyze local policies, services and programs in Ghana; 3. To examine the link between the Ghanaian public perception of stigma within the context of its social construction and; 4. To mobilize research insights in academic and policy fora, including policy recommendations.

Using disability and empowerment theories, this study utilizes a qualitative exploratory approach to examine the perspectives of individuals and their family members. To this end, we conducted 80 semi-structured interviews with the goal of facilitating an in-depth exploration of their experiences. Key outcomes include a research framework which will explore the dichotomy between stigma in the Western world among immigrants and in sub-Saharan Africa. The findings will enhance methods to provide support for individuals with disability and their families both in Ghana and also in the Western world, particularly Canada.

A robust knowledge mobilization plan informs this project. Two graduate students will be trained in research and dissemination skills. Outcomes will target academic audiences through a number of planned articles, social media dissemination of outcomes. The research will encourage uptake among policy makers and decision makers in Ghana by comprehensive recommendations report. Outreach in Canada will also target the West African immigrant community with policy recommendations for addressing cultural/social stigma among new Canadians from Ghana specifically, and other African countries, providing a foundation for future research on disability stigma in Africa and its global diaspora.