These past couple of weeks we concluded our research with a presentation and report. We have been narrowing our focuses and are beginning to contact users who will be providing us with invaluble insight as we move forward. I have e-mailed Yalala Mary and Biira Sylvia, both of whom can give me powerful information regarding women living with disabilities in rural Uganda.
Below are relevant bits and pieces of my design brief and presentation, which explain the steps I will be taking in addition to the opportunities I have identified thus far.
Uganda is a developing country located in Eastern Africa. Because of a turbulent history marked by conflict and violence, disabilities are more common there than is typically seen in more developed countries. These disabilities are intensified by the extreme poverty seen there, exemplified by the lacking health care, extremely low education enrolment, low food and clean water supplies, paired with the stigma surrounding disability in this area.
CanUgan in association with KADUPEDI (Kasese District Union of Persons’ with Disability) presented the need for devices to assist people with disabilities in the rural areas of Uganda. The goal for this project is to design products that not only assist these users but also create empowerment by allowing these devices to contribute to the quality of life of the user, their families, and the community
Initial research had a noticeable recurring theme: disabled women in poverty. A lot was mentioned on the disadvantages, discrimination and stigma surrounding this group, especially compared to disabled men in the same areas of Uganda.
The gender inequality often starts when the child is young. Able bodied and disabled boys are favoured to be enrolled in school over girls, especially disabled (Department for International Development, 2000). The mentality is that the boys will grow to be men who are expected to work to provide for their families, a task which is easier with an education. Expecting a disabled woman to go to school and secure a job to provide an income is seen as worthless (Ingstad & Whyte, 2007). Additionally, girls with a disability in the family are often expected to act as a caregiver, often costing them the chance to attend school (CBM). Attending school can also be costly for a family in poverty. These families often cannot afford to pay the school fees or for mobility devices which would allow their disabled children to attend non-accessible schools (Ingstad & Whyte, 2007).
Disabled girls who lack an education grow into women who often cannot find purposeful work with which to support themselves (CBM; Kett, Trani, Lang, Wirz, Kembhavi & Groce). It is seen as pointless to help a disabled woman become a valuable and contributing member of society. These women are of last priority (United Nations, 2004). Further, disabled women in rural areas often have limited choices when it comes to income generation, due to their disability, as agriculture is the primary source of income in these rural areas, however is labour intensive and almost impossible to do with a mobility impairment (Ingstad & Whyte, 2007). Further, these women are frequently expected to stay in these rural villages, while men are more likely to have the opportunity to travel to larger cities where jobs, mobility devices and support are more available for disabled people, allowing them to be more independent (Eide & Benedicte, 2011; Ingstad & Whyte, 2007). Traditionally, women keep the home and care for the children in the village, and may fear losing their husband should they travel to the city to seek out more opportunities (Eide & Benedicte, 2011). A lack of job and consequently mobility device creates a lack of independence, which frequently leads the community and society to believe that these disabled women are a burden to their husbands and families who must care for and support them (Coleridge, 1993; Ingstad & Whyte, 2007).
Due to the notion that disabled women are burdensome, marriage rates among these women are low compared to similarly-abled men. In Uganda, it is not the disability that is unattractive, but the inability to provide for a family. If a disabled woman is able to secure a job, or is wealthy or educated, her chances of marrying rise (Ingstad & Whyte, 2007), however, marriage rates among disabled women are still incredibly low (Kett, Trani, Lang, Wirz, Kembhavi & Groce). By the same token, if a woman becomes disabled as an adult, it is not uncommon for her husband to leave her with their children and no source of income, as she is no longer useful to him (Ingstad & Whyte, 2007; Kett, Trani, Lang, Wirz, Kembhavi & Groce).
Women tend to get the short end of the stick regarding health care as well. Women have less access to preventative measures, rehabilitation, and basic information than men. Women living under the poverty line are more likely than men in poverty to acquire a disability due to a lack of access to health care facilities (Sok Chann, 2011). Older women are also more likely to get a disability than older men for the same reasons (Kett, Trani, Lang, Wirz, Kembhavi & Groce). It is also harder for disabled women to make informed decisions due to a lack of access to basic information, and they are therefore subject to higher rates of diseases such as HIV/AIDS as well as unplanned pregnancies (Eide & Benedicte, 2011). In fact, the leading cause of death and disability among women in their reproductive years is poor reproductive health which could be prevented with sufficient health care (United Nations Population Fund, 2008).
Violence against women is also a big issue in Uganda, with violence and abuse against disabled women being an even larger problem. Violence against women is one of the biggest causes of disability in developing countries (United Nations, 2004). Further, violence and abuse rates are even higher among disabled women as these women are incredibly vulnerable and consequently are more likely to be abused, sexually, physically and emotionally (Sok Chann, 2011; United Nations Population Fund, 2008). Such abuse has profound psychological effects on the victim (Eide & Benedicte, 2011)
Lastly, poverty and disability are two huge outstanding issues which intertwine, creating a vicious cycle. Because disabled women have a harder time finding work and access to a mobility device, they are more likely unable to support themselves, and poverty rates among these women are high, with poverty rates among unmarried disabled women being the highest (Kett, Trani, Lang, Wirz, Kembhavi & Groce). Women who become disabled after they have married face the possibility of losing their spouse as well as financial support from their family (Kett, Trani, Lang, Wirz, Kembhavi & Groce). Additionally, as mentioned, women typically do not have the freedom to travel to larger cities where poverty rates are lower (Eide & Benedicte, 2011). All of these factors leave women with a huge disadvantage when it comes to standards of living and poverty (Kett, Trani, Lang, Wirz, Kembhavi & Groce).
While researching the country of Uganda, issues of disability and poverty, a few concerns were emphasized repetitively. One of the major problems that presented a big opportunity was the discrimination and stigma specifically surrounding women with disabilities, and the lack of attention focused on this minority within a minority.
More specifically, disabled women in Uganda have lower rates of education, lower employment rates, lower wages, lower chances of marrying, higher poverty rates, lower chances of acquiring a mobility device, lower levels of support, higher levels of abuse, less access to health care, and higher rates of discrimination than similarly disabled men.
In order to benefit disabled women living in poverty in Uganda, the design must take into consideration several factors. The existing tricycle design is a great tool and aide for those who have mobility impairments, but of course is not designed to solve every problem. For example, it is great for traveling distances, but can be cumbersome to use within a building. Additionally, it does not entirely tackle the challenge of earning an income, which is interrelated with the issues of discrimination regarding wages, employment, marriage, poverty, mobility devices and support. The tricycle does allow the user to be much more independent, allowing the user to acquire a job much more easily. However this configuration does not account for the fact that women often cannot afford the freedom to leave rural areas for more urban cities where there are more jobs, support, access to mobility devices, and opportunities in general.
Measures of Success
Desirable outcomes for this project are many. First and foremost, it needs to provide some sort of empowerment, hopefully economic, to women with disabilities living in poverty. It also must be low cost, or eventually pay for itself. If the user, who in this case does not have a lot of money anyway, can’t afford the design, then it is as good as never having been done. Consequently, this device will likely take advantage of local materials and labour to keep costs low. Because this device will be such an extension of the users’ life, it needs to be ergonomically designed to be comfortable as the user may be using it for extended periods, and for a variety of tasks.
People I have contacted in researching disabilities in Uganda include Navin Parekh, founder and project manager at CanUgan, Bjarki Hallgrimsson, our professor who has been to Uganda and has been involved in this project before. In addition, Baluku Peter (coordinator), Robert Bwambale (treasurer) and Phestus Mutebi of KADUPEDI, as well as Kio Muikiika, local welder and manufacturer of mobility devices, have also been (and will be) of great help. Pia Nyakairu is a third year student of the Industrial Design program at Carleton University who happens to have come from Fort Portal, and later Entebe, Uganda, and also provided us with great insight. Lastly, Sal Elijek of Engineers without Borders did a presentation at Carleton University which provided a great deal of useful information.
After the research review we presented, I got reassuring comments, especially from Navin Parekh. He stated that the issue of female empowerment was huge, especially for those who are disabled. Additionally, he emphasized the importance of attitude- attitudes of the disabled themselves, as well as attitudes of the community and society. A lot of the findings from the primary and secondary research pointed towards stigma and discrimination against women with disabilities, and these comments really supported what I had read.
Moving forward, I plan to keep the same direction, but perhaps focus more on the self-esteem and mindset of these women. If a device can be created that allows the woman to somehow reach her full potential, contribute to her family, and the community, it will allow her to live a happier life with more confidence in herself. When one respects themselves, it commands more respect from those surrounding them. A good attitude about one’s self is the first step in improving others’ attitudes and eliminating stigma and discrimination.
Moving forward, I have already contacted two women with disabilities, Yalala Mary and Biira Sylvia, and hope to contact more as their information becomes available through Navin. I would like to research different successful businesses or sources of income that able bodied women have taken on, and analyze how I may be able to make these jobs more available to women with disabilities. I would also like to look at agriculture and whether or not it is achievable to make this more accessible to women with disabilities as work in rural areas.
Additionally, here is my scenario board:
The scenario which I focused on includes situations in which disabled men are favoured over similarly abled women. Due to stigma, tradition and attitudes, disabled women are discriminated against and stigmatized in areas of education, jobs, marriage, health care, abuse and poverty, among many others.
On the left is a disabled woman in a rural village. Her husband has left her with three young children and no source of income. She cannot find a job due to stigma surrounding disability, in addition to most work places being inaccessible to her. She does not have a mobility aid as she cannot afford one without a job, and therefore has no way of getting around. Due to her lacking resources, she is at a high risk of falling into poverty. Her children will likely not attend school as the school fees are unaffordable, and they are needed to help keep the home. They too are at a high risk of falling into poverty.
On the right is a disabled man who has been afforded the chance to travel to a larger city with the help of a friend. There, he has a job with which to support himself, and his wife and child. Because he has a job, he is now able to afford a mobility device with which to get around and be more independent. Additionally, in larger cities there are more support groups for disabled people. They create somewhat of a community together, and offer more help and support to those struggling. He can afford school fees so his child can attend school, making the child less likely to fall into poverty as he has broken the poverty cycle himself.
These two scenarios are not atypical among disabled men and women. As described by my research findings, disabled women in Uganda are consistently discriminated against and stigmatized more on issues that disabled men are not. All of these issues create an environment in which these women tend to lack self-esteem and confidence as well as meaning, while similarly abled men are able to thrive. Poor self-respect and dignity does not demand respect from outsiders, leading to negative attitudes surrounding these women.