The primary aim of the learning disability week celebration (17th-23rd June 2021) is to raise public awareness on learning disabilities and the struggles of persons with those disabilities.
A 2013 study by Inclusion Ghana found that the Ghanaian public still hold stereotypical views of people with learning disabilities. They still face prejudice and negative attitudes in their communities, in the workplace, and in accessing services. Learning disabilities are still highly misunderstood and plagued by unconscious bias and beliefs.
This Learning Disability Week, therefore, provides a valuable opportunity for us to place these problems in the public eye, while increasing understanding.
This year’s global theme is art and creativity. Inclusion Ghana believes that getting creative has been one way that people with learning disabilities have stayed connected and positive with their friends and families, especially during the challenging times posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s event is a chance to highlight, celebrate and encourage that creativity. It is in this regard that Inclusion Ghana has chosen its national and local theme “Celebrating Gifts, Honouring Diversity”
Learning disabilities are disorders that affect the ability to understand, or use spoken or written language, do mathematical calculations, coordinate movements, or direct attention. Although learning disabilities occur in very young children, the disorders are usually not recognized until the child reaches school age. Learning disabilities can be lifelong conditions. In some people, several overlapping learning disabilities may be apparent. Other people may have a single, isolated learning problem that has little impact on their lives.
One of the biggest problems facing people with any disability, particularly those with a learning disability, is loneliness and social exclusion. This problem has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that people with learning disabilities are up to twice as likely to experience mental health problems, due to many factors like discrimination and social isolation. At the same time, their much-needed support services were reduced or ended altogether during COVID-19.
Identifying children as having disabilities can be a challenge in any setting. Thus, it is even more challenging for those with learning disabilities as children’s difficulties may not be visually apparent and they may be physically and behaviourally distinguishable from children without disabilities. When pupils/students with learning disabilities are left unidentified, there is a risk that they may not receive the services they need to reach their full academic potential.
People with learning disabilities face challenges throughout their lives. But showing them love, encouragement and support will help to ensure that they develop a strong sense of self-worth, confidence, and the determination to keep going even when things are tough. It is of paramount importance that parents look for more areas in which their children will exhibit talents and give their support in that regard throughout their education. People with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.
They are also very creative. There is therefore the need for awareness creation in the communities for members of the community to understand that children with learning disability have basic human rights. Families and community members are entreated to accept and understand the diversity of their children and give them the support they need and to eschew the use of children with learning disabilities for economic activities.
From our experience, working with many learning disability centres across the 16 regions of Ghana, we have identified the positive impact that creative group activities can have, from pottery classes and music workshops to group art events and film-making. Alongside the sense of achievement in creating a piece of art or music, there is a real sense of communal pride amongst participants who make new friends and learn new skills. It is also a valuable means of expression, especially for those people who may find it difficult to communicate or are non-verbal. And, of course, creative outlets are a fantastic opportunity for people who feel excluded and lonely to socialise and engage with others. Consistent learning support is especially critical for pupils/students with learning disabilities.
Roles in your child’s education is more important than ever. Do not sit back and let someone else be responsible for providing your child with the tools they need to learn. You can and should take an active role in your child’s education. Remember your child is not defined by their learning disability. A learning disability represents one area of weakness, but there are many more areas of strengths. Focus on your ward’s gifts and talents. Your child’s life and schedule should not revolve around the learning disability.
To find out how you can get involved, visit the Inclusion Ghana website @ www.inclusion-ghana.org . Inclusion Ghana is the peak network organization representing the voices of all persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (PWIDDs) and their families in Ghana. Established 12 years ago, IG has positioned itself as a community change agent in Ghana, with a strong focus on advocacy and service for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, both locally and nationally.
The Writer is Auberon Jeleel Odoom, the National Co-ordinator, Inclusion Ghana
Telephone: +233 30 224 3291 /+233 20 815 1523; Email: [email protected]