By Gabriel Oke
“I realised the opportunities I was opened to were better than the ones my roommate who was equally talented and intelligent but hearing-impaired could access. After university, life happened to both of us differently. I was able to find my path but he got stuck and the last time I saw him he was working as a cleaner,” Dr Arowolo Ayoola, Lead Partner, Data Lead Africa said in an interview.
According to the World Report on Disability, over 25 million Nigerians live with a form of disability or the other. Reports show that this group faces challenges getting jobs and earning a living and this majorly because work environments and work systems aren’t adapted to enable them to fulfill their job roles or communicate effectively within an organization.
“You can go to almost ten offices and you won’t see persons with obvious disabilities in any of the offices because they are not able to get the skills they need, and lack of inclusivity in the way organisation infrastructures are built. Access is not just providing a staircase for people to climb. If a deaf person is to work in an organization, how and what have we provided to make work easier for the person?”, Dr Arowolo questioned rhetorically.
Providing training on data analytics to people living with hearing impairment in the hopes of making them employable and independent, Data Lead Africa (DLA) is working towards ensuring the inclusion of people living with disabilities in workplaces.
Dr Ayoola said, “With a skill set in tech, deaf persons have an opportunity to work in diverse sectors within the country as a skill in tech is sought after in every aspect of work. You do not need to hear in order to collect, manage, analyze and visualize data. We are still piloting and we are starting with persons with deaf persons first before we move to persons living with other disabilities. Our first priority has been deaf people, as we have fully understood how to communicate instructions to them.”
In the training, one participant shared his experience with job search, and how organizations advertise that they offer equal opportunities regardless of disability but did not furnish him with means of communication during the interview, even though he mentioned his disability upon application.
Training the trainers: Masterminding the act of learning with the eyes
In bridging the communication gap, he said everyone at Data Lead can now say greetings in sign language to people with hearing impairment. His team realized that with middleman communication, a lot of communication is lost, and therefore they recruited thirty sign language interpreters in January 2022 and trained them . Some were hired, while others came in as trainers for the deaf-in-tech program.
These sign language interpreters help communicate instructions to persons with hearing impairment throughout the training. To him, using sign language helps eliminate barriers in learning for deaf people.
The first and second cohorts which had 30 participants each were completed in August and September respectively and the next cohort of 30 persons will resume by January 2023.
According to the Deaf rights in Nigeria report, there are about 9 million deaf persons in Nigeria. Dr Arowolo emphasised how difficult it is for deaf people to access education, employment opportunities, information and healthcare services. He also said that because of that some of them become dependent on their families and friends. He stated that his team spends an average of N120,000 to train each deaf person to be able to use Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, and Power BI.
He said some find it difficult to afford transport fare to attend the training. Because of that, his team provides a transport allowance of N1000 daily for transport stipends. He further mentioned that the interpreters who train them are also paid monthly.
As a beneficiary of the project, Abubakar Mumbu Idris, who is also a disability advocate stated, “There are many deaf people who are interested in tech but unfortunately, most tech programs and training are not inclusive and accessible.” Daniel who is also a participant in the last cohort said, “I have been to different trainings but I find it difficult to learn because of communication barriers. When I came here, it was amazing as I could learn without any barriers.”
Anthonia Enejo, another participant recounting her experience said, “The first time I learnt data analysis, it was challenging but at Data Lead this time, they are all very simple: PowerPoint, Microsoft Excel, and Power BI because the lecturers taught us very well and over again until we understood.”
The participants are taught how to use enhancement menus for presentations that will help them communicate better. They are also divided into groups for projects after training. Dr Arowolo alluding to the last project presentation said, “It is evident that the disabilities allow them to overcompensate in other areas as their dashboards are awesome”
Some of the graduates have secured one-off data analysis jobs and employment. “One of our graduates is working with the team that is building the election situation room server to be able to monitor the elections. Others are sharing their experience on LinkedIn as they continue to learn.” He said.
Challenges and limitations so far
Dr. Arowolo Ayoola mentioned that his team had provided laptops for some deaf persons to learn and practice. In his words, “Obtaining laptops and computers for deaf persons is a big issue. The ones who have computers have old versions of computers that cannot do so much. Some also face challenges that make it difficult for them to stay in class.”
He described their ordeal of accessing care as a key issue derailing them from achieving their maximum potential. “Obtaining swift medical healthcare usually proves difficult for deaf persons as there is little to no help in overcoming communication barriers at the hospital. They end up spending a lot of time in the hospital trying to access healthcare and this makes some of them miss classes.”
Speaking to the sustainability of the project, “Our team is in discussions with organizations who are willing to donate laptops and computers to deaf persons to aid learning, practising and also provide internship opportunities.” He also said some of their graduates are resuming with them in January as employees of Data Lead Africa.
Another challenge is that it takes a long time to train PWDs. “Persons with hearing impairment don’t learn as fast as others because they listen with their eyes meaning that while you are teaching, they cannot practice,” Dr Arowolo said.
This story was produced in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.