“Give Us the Chance to Be Part of You, We Want Our Voices to Be Heard”: Assistive Technology as a Mediator of Participation in (Formal and Informal) Citizenship Activities for Persons with Disabilities Who Are Slum Dwellers in Freetown, Sierra Leone
Victoria Austin, Catherine Holloway, Ignacia Ossul Vermehren, Abs Dumbuya, Giulia Barbareschi and Julian Walker
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are currently one billion people in the world who need access to assistive technology (AT). Yet over 90% currently do not have access to assistive products (AP)—such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, walking sticks and eyeglasses—they need, nor and the systems and services necessary to support their appropriate provision . This shocking deficit is set to double by 2050, with about two billion of us likely to require AT but no anticipated reduction in lack of access. The World Health Organisation defines AT as the “the umbrella term covering the systems and services related to the delivery of assistive products and services”, which are products that “maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence, thereby promoting their well-being” , and the importance of AT provision is strongly highlighted in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) . AT has also been shown to be essential to achieving many of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) . Without access to AT, many persons with disabilities are unable to go to school, be active in their communities, earn an income, or play a full role in their families . As a recent study found, “AT can make the impossible possible for people living with a wide range of impairments, but a lack of access to basic AT …excludes individuals and reduces their ability to live full, enjoyable, and independent lives” .
The importance of assistive technology (AT) is gaining recognition, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) set to publish a Global Report in 2022. Yet little is understood about access for the poorest, or the potential of AT to enable this group to participate in the activities of citizenship; both formal and informal. The aim of this qualitative study was to explore AT as mediator of participation in citizenship for persons with disabilities who live in two informal settlements in Freetown, Sierra Leone (SL). The paper presents evidence from 16 participant and 5 stakeholder interviews; 5 focus groups and 4 events; combining this with the findings of a house-to-house AT survey; and two national studies—a country capacity assessment and an informal markets deep-dive. Despite citizenship activities being valued, a lack of AT was consistently reported and hindered participation. Stigma was also found to be a major barrier. AT access for the poorest must be addressed if citizenship participation for persons with disabilities is a genuine global intention and disability justice is to become a reality.
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health; 2021