A design thinking program for the deaf sets example for collaborative service projects at Ashesi

Everyone gathered at Ashesi’s 2019 Commencement Ceremony would have noticed the lone student standing at the right of the stage. She was not graduating, but Petra Abosi ’22 was a key part of the day’s activities, having volunteered to provide sign language translations. It would be the first time this was happening at an Ashesi commencement and was one of Petra’s first steps towards making sign language more visible within the Ashesi community.

“I learned how to sign for two years in High school,” Petra shares. “It was a compulsory activity at the time, but my interest in the language remained even after I was no longer required to practice it. I continued to harness the skill because it helped me better understand and interact with the deaf.”

At Ashesi, Petra has been working to share this skill with others. In 2019, she started the Sign Language Club at Ashesi. Its mission is to educate the Ashesi community and others beyond it about the importance of sign language and ways to support the deaf and people with severe hearing loss across the country. This year, the Club is working with the Ashesi Leo Club – founded by sisters Anna and Anita Boakye-Yiadom ’20 – and the Ashesi Design Lab to design a teaching project for schools for the deaf in Ghana. The goal, as Petra explains, is to correct perceptions about the learning capabilities of the deaf.

“Many communities marginalize the deaf and view them as less capable because they cannot express themselves vocally,” Petra shared. “Additionally, many outreach projects to deaf communities often assume the community’s needs and do not necessarily focus on helping deaf people solve their own needs. We believe that given access to the same learning opportunities as everyone else, the deaf can be great problem solvers. This project focuses on helping the deaf – especially young people in the community – develop the necessary skills to tackle some of the problems they see in their communities.”

To support the project’s pilot, the Sign Language Club applied for funding support from the Fund for Service at Ashesi, which is supported by the Ford Foundation, and received a grant of $5000. The initial implementation spread over three weeks and was held at the Demonstration School for the Deaf in Mampong, the Cape Coast School for The Deaf and Blind, and the State School for the Deaf in Tema.

At the schools, students learned foundational design thinking skills with members of the Leo Club, the Sign Language Club, and volunteers from the Ashesi D: Lab leading sessions. Students also got to meet leaders within the deaf community who were leading initiatives to bridge gaps for people with hearing loss, who hoped to inspire them with their own stories. The collaboration ultimately brought together some 105 students at Ashesi, who collectively engaged with 355 students across the three schools for the deaf.

The team hopes to continue growing the program and expanding the teaching curriculum to other volunteers and schools in Ghana and beyond. For now, they consider this to be an excellent case study for others looking to empower the deaf and people with other disabilities.

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