Changing the perceptions of people with disability

The World Day of Disabled Persons took place on December 3rd To mark this occasion, DiscovHer brings you the story of Farida Bedwei, a Ghanaian software engineer living with cerebral palsy, whose achievements, both professional and personal, are slowly chipping away at the stereotypes against people with disabilities that characterize them as dependents rather than bold trendsetters.

As in most places around the world, Ghanaian people living with disabilities often face discrimination that varies from passive dismissal by their abled compatriots, to violent ostracization and isolation from the rest of society. This prevents them from living their lives, both professional and personal, to the fullest, and contributes to their image as a burden to the rest of the community. This is of course a very simplistic observation of their condition which completely ignores the fact that with the right accommodations, persons with disability can contribute just as much as, if not more than, other able-bodied members of society. One example of this is Farida Bedwei.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria to Ghanaian parents, Farida developed a blocked intestine at the age of 2 days. Simultaneously, due to the rhesus factor incompatibility between her parents, she developed jaundice which the doctors could not treat as she was recovering from surgery to fix her intestine. As a result, Farida suffered from brain damage which caused her cerebral palsy, and which was only diagnosed at 9 months. Her mother eventually decided to homeschool her since all the special needs schools were set up for children with disabilities that affected their learning ability, while mainstream schools lacked the infrastructure necessary for the mobility needs of students with cerebral palsy. This same issue also came up when, after a short period at a mainstream school, Farida was unable to attend senior high school for the same reasons.

In the end, her family decided that since she was good with computers, it was better for her to work towards a diploma in a related field. She ended up getting two diplomas, first in information systems then in e-technologies, before gaining a degree in from the University of Hertfordshire in the UK. She applied to the UK in consideration of her disability, since the country had better accommodations for her condition than Ghana did. She only spent a year there before acquiring a BSc in Computer Science, thanks to her previous academic accomplishments, and 6-year work experience.

Upon graduation, she returned to Ghana and joined G-Life, a company focused on creating apps for microfinance institutions. There, she realized the system was not optimal for their target market, and, together with a colleague, founded Logicel, a software company providing tools for many sectors, including microfinance, her main field of interest. Through this company, she has been able to create life-changing solutions to key challenges in micro-finance, the aspect of her job that Farida herself finds the most rewarding.

In addition to her professional achievements, Farida is also very conscious of her image and the kind of representation she offers, both as a woman in ICT, and as an accomplished person living with a disability. In this regard, she has joined local organizations working to improve these two aspects. The first is the Girls in ICT, a ministry-led committee which encourages more girls and young women to join the field, while the second is ShareCare, an organization that offers affordable physiotherapy to children with disabilities from poor families. Through these missions, it is obvious that Farida insists on presenting herself, as well as other persons with disabilities, as problem-solvers rather than problems.

Inspired by Farida’s story? Let us know @4womeninscience

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