Source: Louisa Enyonam Ansah
The Covid-19 lockdowns led to a disruption in education for nearly 1.6 billion of the world’s student population (Lennox et al., 2021). As a result, online learning emerged as a means of ensuring continued learning during school closures. This shift in education delivery adversely affected teachers and students in Sub-Saharan Africa who were accustomed to face-to-face learning and often have limited access to tech devices and infrastructure. According to a World Bank Report, across Sub-Saharan Africa the average population with internet access is 7.1 per cent, and in Ghana, specifically, this is 12.2 per cent (Dvir, 2015).
Scholars have conducted numerous studies to enhance the quality of online teaching, but the challenges of teachers with disabilities (TWDs) and how they are managing with online teaching remain unexplored. Meanwhile, such teachers often experience greater challenges in responding quickly to new and uncertain environments.
Why research on teachers with disabilities is important
Most disability studies look at students with disabilities without investigating the special contribution of TWDs in inclusive classrooms. In Ghana, research on persons with disabilities has primarily focused on children, infrastructure and technology (Adarkwah, 2020; Amponsah, 2021). However, the Covid-19 crisis and greater dependence on online learning have compounded the challenges faced by TWDs. A simple database search on research with TWDs yields almost no results, with the majority of the studies assessing the competence of TWDs instructing in inclusive environments. The few studies identified starting from the past decade (2010–21) dealt with employability, ethics, accommodating needs, and professional identity of TWDs (Okungu et al., 2019; Tal-Alon & Lishchinsky, 2019). Some scholars have also documented the lack of statistical data on TWDs in many educational systems, such as Israel (Tal-Alon, & Lishchinsky, 2019). In Ghana, there is no data on TWDs regarding their integration in public mainstream or special schools.
‘The Covid-19 crisis and greater dependence on online learning have compounded the challenges faced by teachers with disabilities.’
It is evident that TWDs have trouble securing employment and are mostly excluded from public and private spaces. Ghana has no official policy on how TWDs are employed in the education system. The underrepresentation of TWDs inhibits social change that could only be achieved with the presence of these teachers in schools where they can exhibit their innovative pedagogic practices and competencies.
Online learning: How prepared are teachers with disabilities?
Preliminary findings from our phenomenological study with eight (four visually impaired and four hard of hearing) TWDs in two schools in Ghana suggest that they are moderately fit to teach online. The qualitative approach enabled us to deeply explore the perspectives of the TWDs whose assertions showed they are highly committed to teaching online and are capable of integrating mobile technologies into their teaching and assessments (pedagogical fitness). For example, live recordings, the use of flash drives to transfer pre-recorded class sessions, and personal calls were shared by the teachers as some of the best ways to instruct students. However, the lack of support from management curtails their optimal performance. In both schools, teachers expressed their need for professional development programmes in view of limited digital tools, poor internet access, a lack of professional development for online instruction, and less support from teacher unions.
Aiding teachers with disabilities in online instruction
The preliminary findings corroborate existing literature that TWDs often rely on assistive technologies to access information and facilitate their movements. Policymakers in Ghana must provide the required technologies to make their teaching effective. TWDs face professional identity issues which can be tackled by promoting good societal perceptions among them and in the larger teaching fraternity in Ghana.
For the above changes to occur, further research is needed on TWDs to better understand how they work both in-person and in virtual environments. Closing the gap in this type of research will provide the much-needed evidence that policymakers and educational institutions require to better anticipate the training and technology support that will help TWDs respond to student needs and give them a voice in disability research.
Adarkwah, M. A. (2020). ‘I’m not against online teaching, but what about us?’: ICT in Ghana post Covid-19. Education and Information Technologies, 26, 1665–1685. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-020-10331-z
Amponsah, S. (2021). Echoing the voices of SWVIs under Covid-19 inspired online learning. Education and Information Technologies, 26, 6607–6627. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-021-10479-2
Dvir, N. (2015). Does physical disability affect the construction of professional identity? Narratives of student teachers with physical disabilities. Teaching and Teacher Education, 52, 56–65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2015.09.001
Lennox, J., Reuge, N., & Benavides, F. (2021). UNICEF’s lessons learned from the education response to the COVID-19 crisis and reflections on the implications for education policy. International Journal of Educational Development, 85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedudev.2021.102429
Okungu, P. A., Griffin-Shirley, N., & Pogrund, R. L. (2019). Accommodation needs for teachers who are blind and teach students with visual impairments. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 113(3), 248–259. https://doi.org/10.1177/0145482X19854902
Tal-Alon, N., & Lishchinsky, O. S. (2019). Ethical dilemmas among teachers with disabilities: A multifaceted approach. Teaching and Teacher Education, 86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2019.102881