Guiding Research Questions

The project is interested in prevailing social norms affecting life courses of persons with disabilities from early childhood to old age in Ghana and other West African countries. Particular attention is paid on the significance of institutionalised life course patterns for people with disabilities and the influence of the dynamics of social change and modernisation processes on the construction of life courses.

Furthermore, the effects of social and material context factors on the success or failure of biographical transition processes of people with disabilities are of interest. This includes the interplay of informal support from family, neighbourhood, self-help and charity organisations with the expanding state-organised social protection and service systems in Ghana and other West African states.

The following overriding research questions are guiding the project:
  • What life course patterns and transitional structures exist in West Africa and how are they experienced by people with disabilities?
  • How do ‘transition processes’ as ‘mediating task between individual human life and social structure’ develop in the life courses of people with disabilities in West African societies (transition structures and subjective experience)?
  • Which implications can be derived for the planning and design of inclusive social protection and service systems and for inclusive local development planning?

Research Projects – Current Status

Migrants with Disability in Ghana: A View of Gender Disparity in Challenges, Coping Mechanisms and their Contribution to Development (Anna Boakyewah Bentil, Centre for Migration Studies, University of Ghana)

Anna looks at processes of migration as ‘critical life events’ of persons with disabilities in Accra (Ghana) and Freetown (Sierra Leone). Her research seeks to understand the normative and non-normative experiences of persons with disabilities in their migratory process. This includes to access how the interplay of various life stages and transitions with disability experiences informs migration aspirations of persons with disabilities. Data was collected through in-depth interview and focus group discussions with migrants with disabilities in Accra and Freetown. Preliminary results suggest different push- and pull factors related to opportunities of managing certain life stages and transitions, including issues around education, health care delivery and employment opportunities. Further, preliminary findings suggest strong push factors around attitudinal barriers to societal participation that make people with disabilities leaving their hometowns.

Representing Disability Challenges, Rights and Privileges Through Art, Proverbs, Symbols and Posters in Domestic and Public Spaces (Ayine Akolgo, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana)

Ayine researches into representations of persons with disabilities in the visual arts over the life course. In his study, he explores how disability art is used to address concerns of the disability experience along selected artists and artworks in Ghana and Nigeria. The study aims to explore effects of lived disability experiences of artists on their practice, to interrogate representations of the disabled body/identity and to assess the perception, reception, and reflection of disability in African visual arts in selected art spaces. Ecological systems theory and life course theory are applied to underpin this study. Preliminary findings show that stories of persons with disabilities’ lives, transitions, trajectories, and turning points are largely embedded in their art. The study discusses how specific social ecologies, background training, nature of disabilities, family, religious, financial and ethnic backgrounds have particular influences on the lived realities and life courses of artists with disabilities. Contrary to the predominantly negative representations of the disabled body in the media and development practitioners as weak, despondent and dependent, preliminary findings clearly show that artists with disabilities scarcely portray themselves as weak, vulnerable and dependent. Art offers perspectives on the disabled body or body of difference as a body trapped with creativity that contributes to redefining aesthetics, ability, and strength. Disability art thus challenges negative stereotypes of persons with disabilities.

Accessibility and use of Public Transport Services by Persons with Disabilities (Dominic Edem Hotor, Department of Geography and Resource Development, University of Ghana)

Dominic conducts a study on the accessibility and use of public transport services by persons with disabilities in Ghana and its effects on dynamics of inclusion and exclusion across the life course. He examines the various public transport mobility options of persons with disabilities to explore the coping strategies adopted by persons with disabilities in their mobility and to analyse transport users’ and operators’ knowledge of transportation mobility options for persons with disabilities. Life Course Theory and Critical Disability Theory build the theoretical framework for this endeavour. Preliminary results show that persons with disabilities frequently resort to costly alternatives such as taxis due to discrimination and lack of accessibility of other public transport options. This leads, among other things, to a limitation of their own mobility with serious consequences for opportunities to participate in social life. Even more harmful coping strategies could be observed on cases where persons with disabilities do not even travel for health services due to the discriminating transport options and as a result, resort to self-medication or endure health malfunctions instead of using public transport.

Praxis in Transition: Analysis of Emerging Learning Technologies on Students with Disability (Esmerlinda Korkor Ofoe, Department of Adult Education and Human Resource Studies, University of Ghana)

Korkor explores barriers to learning and coping strategies for students with visual and hearing impairments at the University of Ghana. The study analyses experiences with regard to teaching and learning, assessment, and the use of technology and discusses the coping strategies that students adopt in this regard. It is guided by transformative learning and life course theories and seeks to provide scientific evidence to inform the improvement of inclusive policies and practices in higher education for students with disabilities.

Gender and Sexuality over the life course of persons with disabilities; a study of women with physical disabilities in Ghana (Esther Kalua Atujona, Regional Institute for Population Studies, University of Ghana)

Esther looks at gender and sexuality over the life course of persons with disabilities. Through a qualitative narrative approach grounded in a feminist disability theoretical framework, this study explored the sexual life experiences and behaviour of persons with disabilities in Ghana’s Greater Accra Metropolitan Area. Preliminary findings suggest that the family as an institution to a larger extent shaped the sexuality of respondents and most respondents revealed they have been stigmatised all their lives and were often viewed as asexual. Women particularly reported they often felt their femininity questioned and felt they were under constant scrutiny by family members of their partners. Fewer males compared to females indicated their disability was a barrier to the expression of their sexuality and sexual relations. The findings further indicate discrimination faced by persons with disabilities is largely a result of myths and society`s narrow understanding of capabilities of the disabled body.

Persons with Disabilities and Leadership: Exploring Notions, Norms, Customs and Practices of Selected Cases in Ghana (James Kwabena Bomfeh, Department of Integrated Development Studies, University of Cape Coast)

James explored notions, norms, customs and practices around disability and leadership in Ghana. He completed his PhD in early 2023. The study adopted a qualitative approach using critical ethnography and narrative designs. Findings suggest that disability and leadership are constructed independently with the former deriving from the construction of the latter. The thesis looks at Asante and Gonja Kingdoms both being federations with constitutions which made disability not a taboo but a competitive disadvantage to leadership. It further discusses persons with disabilities in leadership positions in different areas of life in today’s Ghana.

Speaking the Unspoken: Changing Socio-Cultural Perspectives of Disability in Ghana through the Literary Arts (Kofi Amankwah Asihene, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana)

Kofi focusses his work on the role that contemporary art forms play in reflecting and changing negative attitudes towards disability in Ghana. The study examines the role contemporary literary, musical, dance and visual arts play in changing the socio-cultural conceptions of disability, i.e. how creative artists with disability consciously use their art as agency in this context. Theoretical foundations of this research work are Life Course Theory, Reflection Theory and Refraction Theory.  Adopting a case study design, this research conducts a thorough analysis of the creative process of twelve creative artists with disability in Ghana. Based on preliminary field work and analysis of artworks, the study focusses on four main themes:  Art as a safe haven and coping mechanism; In/visibility of disabilities; Dis/abled representations; reshaping the next generation’s perceptions of disability.

A holistic examination of the disability culture in Ghana: The position of persons with physical disabilities within families, communities and the nation (Nora Mintah Darko, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana)

Nora conducts research on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on care arrangements for children with disabilities. The study seeks to understand how caregivers oriented and reoriented in the process of offering care pre and post the pandemic and how this affects processes of stigmatisation and othering. Findings discuss how caregivers of children with disabilities are conceptualizing care and care practices. Using an Afrocentric lens derived from philosophical implication of the Ubuntu concept, the study seeks to add to the development of a sociological framework on how African-Ghanaian caregivers maneuver, adapt, act and react to their role as caregivers subjectively as individuals and collectively as members of the society. Life course theory further allows for the examination of transitions (changes in responsibilities) in the trajectory (pattern of behaviour across time) of the caregiving experience, turning points (major transitions where life takes a different direction) to which caregivers must respond, in light of cognitive or functional decline or progress of their care recipients.