Africa Forum provides world stage for disability advocates

The conference brought leaders in the blind community and government together to share ideas for improving life for vulnerable populations

An audience in an auditorium sits and listens to a presentation.

The Africa Forum brought more than 450 people from 46 countries to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

November 7, 2019

The 7th Africa Forum on Visual Impairment brought more than 450 experts, advocates, policy makers, leaders, and innovators from 46 countries to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to meet, network and share ideas for improving the lives of Africans with visual impairment and other disabilities.

Hosted by the Africa Forum Council, of which Perkins International is a member, together with local host organization the Ethiopian National Association of the Blind, (ENAB), the international summit focused on access to education, and full realization of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

In particular, the discussion revolved around innovation, access and lifelong learning opportunities in relation to Goals 3 and 4, which guarantee to all people, including those with disabilities, access to good health resources and a quality education.

“Government accountability and follow-through is essential to achieving the SDGs,” said Katherine Holland, Executive Director of Perkins International. “Change starts with listening to and learning from the people who show every day that it’s possible for more children with visual impairment to access education. The Africa Forum provides a space for that listening and learning to happen.” 

The Forum’s interactive agenda and diverse roster of participants meant attendees met and spoke with government leaders across the continent.

Opening remarks were held at the headquarters of the African Union with remarks from Ambassador Kwesi Quartey, Deputy Chairperson of the AU Commission. 

“There is now a huge awareness that there is a part of our population who have been left out of development,” he said. “Within the United Nations family and here in the African Union, we have made a conscious decision to never again leave anyone behind.” 

Other notable speakers included Wesen Alemu, President of the ENAB, Dr. Frances Gentle, President, International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment, Dr. Frederic K. Schroeder, President, World Blind Union and others.

Throughout the week, expert-led sessions focussed on youth, learning, teaching, vocation, gender equity, policy frameworks, health, technology and more in the context of the SDGs and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The message was clear: while Africans with visual impairment and multiple disabilities have more access and increasing opportunities, there is still much to be done, especially for girls and women. And there is energy for the work ahead.

“Africa is on the rise, Africa is leading,” said Yetnebersh Nigussie, Light for the World’s Director for Advocacy and Human Rights in her opening keynote.  

The Africa Forum also provides an unparalleled platform for professional exchange. Mary Maragia and Scovia Nansuwa are graduates of the Perkins International Educational Leadership Program (ELP), an intensive residential training program for educators that has been operated by Perkins School for the Blind since 1919. Mary and Scovia made presentations at the Africa Forum on their work in Kenya and Uganda, and also held planning meetings for a training they will jointly facilitate in Ethiopia later this year.

The ELP is one of several professional development courses Perkins International offers in Africa and around the world, to help make sure children with visual impairment and multiple disabilities have trained teachers who can help them learn. 

“There are between 6 and ten million children around the world with vision impairment and additional disabilities. These children can learn—if they have teachers with the right training. Perkins has the expertise—when we share it, we see children, families, and communities transformed, in Africa and around the world,” said Holland. “That’s why we do what we do.” 

Read more about Perkins’ work throughout Africa.