6th December, 2019
By Taiwo Okanlawon
A community development initiative, Project Enable Africa has said its disability-friendly inclusion hub was set up to reduce the barrier of the community of persons with disabilities in Lagos to thus promoting access to ICT skills and opportunities.
The Project Director and an alumni of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, Olusola Owonikoko, while speaking with PM News at Disability Inclusion Hackathon held at Adeniran Ogunsanya, Lagos, in commemoration of the 2019 International Day of Persons With Disabilities, said the group’s aim is to break the attitudinal barrier since impairment is not the disabling factor.
He further said the group after doing vocational skills, entrepreneur skill decided to focus more on ICT because behind ICT, productivity is visible, not disability.
In his words, “We started in 2014 and the idea was conceived about 6 years ago in Keke Maruwa that someone with a physical disability was riding and it just occurred to me that if this Keke can be adapted to this guy to ride. Really the challenge is not the people’s disabilities it is the fact that we can’t allow the society to do them. That is where it all started.”
“It’s been a journey, from vocational skills to entrepreneur skills, trying to connect people with jobs, HR, advisors and all that but we are realising more especially from our monitoring and evaluation process that the challenge is not maybe the persons with the disability are skilled or not skilled, the challenge is that no matter the level of their skills, attitudinal barrier.”
“The social model of the disability says the society is the disabling factor and not the impairment against the medical model that says the impairment is the challenge. If I cannot use my legs but I have support, then I can go around and do things, we have seen people in developed countries who have gone ahead to do fantastic things because they have enabling environments,” he added.
Owonikoko further said the biggest disabling factor in the society is attitude by the human who is making a decision that is not inclusive, while lack of inclusion is man-made like poverty.
“That is why we are focusing on ICT, because behind ICT productivity is visible, not disability. If you are at the other end of the line and I want to create graphics, it is not so much of a concern of your disability, what is my concern is that do you have the ability to do the job and with ICT, things are possible for persons with disabilities even though our current reality is that our society is disabled but I can go to school, I can work, shop online.”
“So the focus is that as soon as people go to school, they should be able to use ICT and the innovation will continue to increase because people will create products that will enable ICT to be more productive,” he added.
“The disability inclusion hackathon which had young innovators, software developers and technology enthusiasts across the nation pitch their inclusive solutions to a panel of tech experts who served as judges is a novel idea.
“The overall goal is to engage the use of technology to provide inventions and solutions that will make life easier, better and more convenient for Persons With Disabilities,” he concluded.
The United States consul general, Claire Pierangelo, in her remarks, commended the Project Enable Africa’s team and tech developers, urging them to be inclusive in their ideas.
“Olusola Owonikoko is an alumnus of the United States Consulate Mandela Washington Fellow and we are proud of his developmental contributions and what he has done with Project Enable Africa,” she said.
“Technology is very important to persons with disabilities to maximize their potential and explore their opportunities. It’s very important for us to be inclusive in our policies and processes and we are proud to support great ideas for tech enthusiasts. We will continue to encourage Civil Society Organizations around the world.”
According to Lanre Olagunju the head of Communications, “the Project Enable Africa was founded in 2014 and before we move into ICT we have provided people’s with disabilities with other skills but we realize that’s not enough because with ICT they can do a lot of things, they can maximize their potentials.”
“So we trained them on a quarterly basis, the last one we did, we had 40 students and they are done with their training here having their internship with different organizations that we have affiliations with and they are doing well with feedbacks that we received. In fact, some of them got jobs with the British Council in Abuja.”
“And that’s the idea when they have that empowerment, they are able to do a lot more. So trying to stake that idea, we think, taking the to technology or discussion to the tech innovators is important because they are the ones at the back end providing solutions and it is very important that they also have persons with disabilities at the back of their mind.”
“That’s why we have this disability inclusion hackathon, it is a first of its kind as well and we are hoping that we can run this quarterly or yearly, depending on the outcome we get going forward. Tech solutions for people with disabilities is key because it makes their lives a lot easier,” Olagunju added.
Thera Connect, the team with the most innovative solution got a financial reward of $1,000 to develop a platform that links parents of autistic children with therapists.
The idea will be co-owned with Project Enable Africa so as to scale into a commercially viable product.
Speaking about the experience and their excitements, Olowo Titilope Omotoke who spoke on behalf of the team said they applied to participate in the disability inclusion hackathon not to win but as an opportunity to test their idea.
“This is beyond winning for us, it shows that we are doing something that can actually compete in a global market. I had to go online to see what people have created for autistic children and we found out that there is no App that connects parents of autistic children with therapists.”
“Parents need therapists, they need hospitals and they don’t know where to go and that was what made us create this idea,” Omotoke added.
VoiS, a solution that converts sign language into speech and convert speech to text, emerged first runner-up while Vinsighte, a product that assists visually-impaired people to read and navigate their environment easily emerged the second runner up in the competition.