Q&A: Helping people understand that disability is not inability

A conversation with Angela Affran

Angela Affran headshot

Africa Regional Coordinator Angela Affran wants people to understand the full scope of what Perkins does in Africa.

Perkins International is pleased to welcome Angela Affran as its regional coordinator for Africa. Previously, Affran headed programs in literacy, math and science for the Special Education Division of the Ghana Education Service. She has a master’s degree in blindness and visual impairment from Teachers College, Columbia University.

She also headed the Ford Foundation Alumni Association in Ghana, where she worked to give marginalized communities access to economic opportunities. Perspectives spoke with Affran from her office in Ghana to discuss her vision of Perkins’ future in Africa.

What are your responsibilities as Africa Regional Coordinator? 

I am working to support all the places in Africa where Perkins works with partners. I am in charge of the organized programs, such as the programs for children with deafblindness and multiple disabilities in local schools, teacher training and curriculum development for universities, training and workshops for parents, and supporting visually impaired children and children who are blind with additional disabilities. We are currently supporting programs in countries including South Africa, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi just to mention a few.I also collaborate with organizations such as the Nigeria Association of the Blind, which coordinated that country’s Braille Cup, a braille literacy competition. To support the event we provided Perkins Braillers® as prizes, certificates and the winner’s trophy. I also collaborate with the Ghana Blind Union, the Uganda National Association of the Blind, the Kenya Institute of Special Education and the Kyambogo University, among others.

What are the biggest challenges you will face in this role?

When I first got to this position, I realized that here in Africa, each country is doing its own thing. We might have cultural differences, but it would be helpful to share practices and replicate programs from other countries. I sit down with (partners in) each country so Africa can make a stronger case for disabilities as a whole. I also realized that many people aren’t aware of Perkins – they know about braillers, and bits of things Perkins is doing. I want people to understand the scope of what Perkins does here in Africa.

What are your main goals over the next year or two?

People must understand that disability is not inability. We have some programs (for children who are blind) already, but right now, most education services are for the sighted. Those gaps are there, and I want to reduce those gaps. My main goal is to reduce the inequalities and inequities in access to quality education and other services for children and youth with visual impairment, multiple disabilities and deafblindness, so they can reach their full potential.

How do you feel about working for Perkins? 

It is a dream come true. I really believe that what I want to do is what Perkins is doing already. I want to help these children to succeed.

How did you originally decide you wanted to work with children who are blind or deafblind, including those with multiple disabilities?

It started in high school. Children who were blind were integrated in my school, and I used to read for them because there were no braille textbooks. It gave me a passion for blindness (education) that continues to grow. And when you are very passionate about something, you don’t ever feel tired.

What makes you most optimistic about your new job?

I see (the blindness) community as part of my community. I want them to lead independent lives. They need a champion, and this is a passion for me.